Background Narrative

General Franco's connections with fascism in the later 1930s and 1940s will be explored later. However, that he was already convinced of the benefits of Spanish imperialism and of a centralist, hierarchical Spain inseparable from his own destiny is clear from earlier landmarks in his career. In 1923 he became Commander of the Spanish Legion and, having featured prominently in the humbling of the Moroccan Riffs, was promoted to Brigadier General in 1926. A year later, Miguel Primo de Rivera appointed Franco Commandant of the elite Zaragoza Military Academy. By 1934 a full general, and having masterminded the suppression of the Asturias Revolt, Franco was again promoted: to Commander-in-Chief of Spain's supreme fighting force, the Army of Africa; then, in 1935, to Chief of the General Staff. In this capacity he was to work with José María Gil Robles, CEDA Minister of War and admirer of Nazi propaganda techniques.

Several attempts were made to create fascist mass movements in Spain. Founded in 1931, and yelling, 'Arise! Spain, one, great, free!' the Juntas of the National-Syndicalist Offensive (JONS) modelled themselves on the Nazi Sturmabteilung, and brandished flags of red and black as beacons to the disaffected left. Also embracing the workers within its national 'mandate', the blue-shirted Spanish Phalanx (Falange Española) was born in October 1933. The memory of his father's efforts to forge a 'new politics' was a strong influence on the Falange's charismatic creator, José Antonio Primo de Rivera. He had also learned from the Italian romantic nationalist D'Annunzio and his opportunistic admirer Mussolini, not to mention Sir Oswald Mosley, founder of the British Union of Fascists.

The Falange and JONS merged in March 1934 and in November published a 'Twenty-seven Points' manifesto. Electorally, however, this new Falange Española de las JONS remained weak, polling only 0.7 per cent of the vote in the February 1936 elections and attracting under 3 per cent of right-wing support in Madrid. Even so, despite its official prohibition in March and the jailing of José Antonio, its membership now increased. As the 'revolution' threatened, panic set in on the right: the JAP, youth group of the now-eclipsed CEDA, converted en masse to the Falange, whose escuadristas (squadristi) stoked the furnaces of looming civil war.

Meanwhile, the new Popular Front government's posting of Franco to the Canaries failed to contain him, and already by late July 1936 the shape of the future Francoist state was being defined. The Law Against Military Rebellion (still in place in the late 1960s) would give legal sanction to the mass execution of 'reds'. The Law of Political Responsibilities (February 1939, vindictively backdated to October 1934) would establish a framework for custody and confiscations. Accompanying a cabinet reshuffle in August 1939, the Law for the Administration of the State was to strengthen Franco's personal grip on the legislative 'process'. In turn, these harsh contours would be extended by the Laws for the Suppression of Freemasonry and Communism (1940) and of State Security (1941).

A celebrated early victim of the Nationalist repression was the internationally acclaimed Granadine poet and playwright, Federico García Lorca. Murdered in August 1936 on the orders of José Valdes, the Falangist Governor of Granada, Lorca had, ironically, been sheltered by Falangist friends. His own martyrdom was followed in November by that of the Falangists' own jefe nacional, José Antonio, shot by a Republican firing squad.

Meanwhile, the rebel threat to Madrid had proved serious but not overwhelming. Indeed, it was the Nationalists' failure to seize the capital, along with increasing Soviet aid to the Republic, that helps explain Franco's decision in December 1936 to centralize the Falangist and Carlist militias under army control. But he was also alert to the factions' political aspirations, which he took further steps to neutralize by forming the megalithic 'Falange Española Tradicionalista y de las JONS' on 19 April 1937. The obliteration of Guernica occurred seven days later. By the end of that year, what had remained of the resources-rich north had fallen to the Nationalists. By the end of 1938, with Republican territory cut in two in the east, Nationalist forces were launching their final offensive in Catalonia. After March 1939 Franco and Francoism remained wedded to violence in their determination to win the 'peace'. More immediately, however, perhaps it was more that the Republic lost the Civil War than that Franco and the Nationalists won it.

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