Source E an evaluation of the dictatorship by historian and MP Katharine Atholl 1938

For forty or fifty years Spain has had her Socialist and trade-union movements, by no means confined to the towns. A peasant rising, however, as recently as 1919 had been fruitless, and since Primo de Rivera's seizure of power in 1923, though some useful constructive work had been achieved, no agrarian reform had been possible. Moreover, there had been no freedom to ventilate grievances in speech or press, no free elections, and no Cortes with any powers to legislate; while the desire of Catalonia for autonomy had been sternly refused. Some universities had been suppressed; professors and teachers were miserably paid . . . and religious tests had been imposed on State officials. The dictatorship, in fact, by overriding the Constitution, had read the nation a lesson in anarchy.


*1. Explain the references to: (a) 'the republicans are loath to acknowledge it' (Source C) (2); (b) 'a lesson in anarchy' (Source E). (2)

2. How revealing is Source B as to the nature of Spanish government in the early 1920s? (3)

3. What can be inferred from Sources A and E as to political and economic relationships in rural Spain in the 1920s? (4)

4. Assess the relative value to historians of the evidence provided by Sources C and D. (6)

5. Using these sources and your own knowledge, comment on the description of Primo de Rivera's rule as 'one of the most moderate' types of dictatorship. (8)

Worked answer

*4. [Apart from considering the accuracy or otherwise of these sources, also give thought to language and tone and other senses in which the sources may or may not be 'reliable'.]

What Borkenau says in Source C about the lack of active support for the Rivera regime can to some extent be corroborated: the Unión

Patriótica did not become the affirmative mass-movement he had hoped for, and the Socialist Party would not join the National Assembly. However, the Socialist Largo Caballero joined Rivera's Council of State, even though he later distanced himself from the regime. As Borkenau suggests, it is true that Rivera found it difficult to unite right and left behind him. On the other hand, Rivera was not the first to attempt to solve the 'social problem'. Earlier governments had both initiated public works schemes, which after all have a social and political as well as an economic function, and made efforts to arbitrate in labour disputes.

Both Borkenau and the authors of Source D make generalized assertions about Spanish 'apathy' in the face of 'constructive effort'. Contrary to the authors' claims, many thousands willingly sought work in the public works schemes. The Africanista infantry also had cause to appreciate Rivera and were shocked when he was dismissed.

Borkenau's language and tone are relatively detached, though his repetition of the word 'modern' suggests admiration. Despite the provenance of Source D, its assessment is not entirely one-sided. It is true that politics intrude more clearly ('a wise development . . . seduced to the cause of the extremists . . . gave the agitators their opportunity'). They are also not averse to stereotypes: witness their references to 'the Spaniard' and 'this fierce nation'. They are somewhat patronizing, for example towards sections of the British press, though that of itself does not make their specific point of criticism wrong. Although themselves right wing, they acknowledge Largo Caballero's 'constructive effort' in the field of labour relations, while criticizing the financial policy of the dictatorship. Both sources give useful near-contemporary insights into the achievements and problems of Rivera's rule. Neither can be dismissed as mere propaganda.

As always, it depends to some extent on what the historian is looking for; and what his or her source is 'valuable for'. For unleavened propaganda one would look further afield. Nevertheless, Right Book Club analyses provide a counterweight to analyses such as Sources B and C.

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