Politics and the Military in Modern Spain
The Goodbye Land
As everyone knows, the present regime in Spain had its origin in a rebellion of the Army against the constitutionally elected Government. Such military rebellions, though not occurring in other West European countries, have had a long history in Spain and in Latin America and are now becoming almost the rule in new and undeveloped countries. A study of how they first came about should therefore have its interest, and that is what Stanley G. Payne provides in his lucid and scholarly work, Politics and the Military.
The beginnings of the intervention of the Spanish Army in politics go back to the period that followed the Napoleonic War, when it made itself the champion of the weak Liberal middle classes against the autocratic leanings of the clergy and the Court. From its success in putting down the Carlist rebellion in the 1830s, it acquired the belief that in times of stress it represented the national will, so that whenever the government appeared to be moving too far to the Right or to the Left it “pronounced” against it. This was a role that in theory at least the country accepted. The interventions of the military, first to dethrone Queen Isabella and then to put an end to the chaotic Federal Republic of 1873-4, were popular, and, though after this date the strengthening of the civil government kept them out of politics, it was generally agreed that in times of disorder or subversion they had the right to step in to save the country.
Yet it should be noted that none of the generals of the nineteenth century who made successful pronunciamientos set up military dictatorships. They merely became prime ministers in another civilian administration and held elections which, since all elections were rigged, they won. Thus they acted, as they claimed to do, as a regulating force, for in the weak and top-heavy political structure of the country, a pronunciamiento was often the only way of getting rid of an unpopular government.
THE ARMY, however, had another function, which was to provide light employment, followed by a pension, for the middle classes. Thus it was hugely over-officered. On an average there was one officer on the active list for every seven or eight men, and one general for every hundred. So much money had to be assigned to officers’ salaries that there was hardly anything left over for equipment or for decent living conditions for the men. Yet even so, no married officer under the rank of colonel could support himself on what he got, but had to find some civilian job to supplement it. The training of the men, such as it was, was left to the sergeants. The natural consequence of this was that when the Army was called on to fight in a colonial war it showed itself incompetent. This happened in the two Cuban rebellions in the 1870s and 1890s. Tens of thousands of untrained conscripts were drafted out to die of disease, while officers…
This article is available to online subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:
Purchase a print premium subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all all content on nybooks.com.
Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.
Purchase a trial Online Edition subscription and receive unlimited access for one week to all the content on nybooks.com.