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The Spanish Tragedy

Spain, the Gentle Anarchy

by Benjamin Welles
Praeger, 373 pp., $7.95

The Siege of the Alcazar

by Cecil D. Eby
Random House, 239 pp., $4.95

The experienced reader might mistakenly drop Mr. Welles’s book after savoring a few sentences; as an enthusiast for Spain he often affects the picturesque writing which has become the stock-in-trade of the afiçionado. “Yet there is also a Spain of noise, of rhythm, song, hand clapping, heels drumming hard on wooden floors: the Spain of flamenco.” Seville (oh God, not again!) where “hot blood and holy austerity wrestle for supremacy.” But the sentence skimmer would be wrong. In spite of minor innaccuracies and overpowering enthusiasms, this is a useful and interesting book on a subject in which useful and interesting books do not abound. It achieves its aim: to provide a badly needed guide to the politics of modern Spain. The writer spent six years as New York Times correspondent in Madrid; it is very much a journalist’s book.

Mr. Welles understands the essential paradox: opposition increases until it permeates the whole society, yet General Franco goes on unperturbed. The old pillars of the regime—the Church, the Army, the Falange—do not stand as firm as they did; they knock each other about and seem to be subject to internal fissure. The Falange despised the respectable—usually monarchist—right; it has never got on well with the generals or the bishops. Franco has refused to “institutionalize” José Antonio’s rather battered descendants who originally provided the regime with its ideological clothing. They are divided between those who want to establish effective unionism or a return to the strenuous nationalistic radicalism of the founder, José Antonio; and those who cling to acquired advantage. The church does not like government interference with its workers’ syndicates; it senses the disquiet of young Basque and Catalan priests. Jesuits dislike Opus Dei and its implications for a genuine opening to the left. Yet as a whole, the church still prefers, like the Falange, to enjoy the advantages of collusion rather than to speculate in futures. Mr. Welles correctly estimates its present dilemma; as he puts it “the steps are still slightly unsteady and the speech slightly slurred.” Even the Army is not quite the monolith it was.

The regime is, as they say, “not so bad as it was” in the bad old times of Censor Arias Salgado—according to the author an electric light bulb salesman in his pre-Nationalist days. One cannot conceive how any nation could have lived with the Spanish press of the Forties. Its dreariness, as much as its censorship, offended the meanest intelligence. The self-proclaimed “liberalizing” policies of Señor Fraga Iribarne, professor and Minister of Information and Tourism, may not yet have changed much in Spain—least of all by his reform of the censorship. Mr. Welles sees in him a symbol of a new look: in his phrase Fraga is the “wheeler dealer” of a class of technocrats, professionals, and business men who in the ebullient post-1960 boom will take no political risks and believe Spain unprepared for democracy. Car owners in developing economies make bad revolutionaries.

The regime survives not so much because its supporters are strong as because its opponents are weak. It is almost impossible to combat a quasi-totalitarian regime which more or less satisfies the expectations of the “average” citizen. In the days of Godoy, Alcalá Galiano described the opposition as cliquey, largely conversational, expressing itself in “private grievances, expressive silences, above all in abstention from praise, or, at the most, in timid insinuations.” He might be describing the Spain of today where the opposition talks, plans, and quarrels; where most Spaniards are prepared to grumble—indeed grumbling is a fashionable activity—but few can see any effective means of action. It is impossible to calculate the strength of an opposition which ranges from old-style liberals and monarchists, through followers of Gil Robles, Christian Democrats in general, disillusioned radical Falangists to the Socialists and the Communists. Union is difficult. In the past the relations between the “exterior” opposition in exile and the “interior” opposition were often tense—as is still the case of the Communists. The opposition despises the regime and the regime despises the opposition. Not only the Spanish police must ask themselves Oú sont les rouges d’antan? In 1936 they were half the nation.

The regime has existed for years on a very old-fashioned populism, a sort of right-wing Castroism. Both Castro and Franco reject “inorganic democracy” for the direct democracy of the plaza; like Castro in Havana, Franco sees his justification in the “organic” sanction of untestable popular acclaim which “inorganic” votes can only falsify. “Spain,” he cried to a crowd of 50,000 in Valencia, “I would like foreigners to see you here! When they ask where are my legitimate powers—here are my powers.” As for a democratic instrument like a free press—well, it’s a thing of the past and “controlled by a few millionaires in each country.” This rhetorical abuse carries less and less conviction. A country invaded by tourists and increasingly conscious of the outside world cannot avoid what economists call the “demonstration effect” of other cultures. As even Ferdinand VII discovered, economic modernization has odd results for authoritarian governments. As Mr. Welles argues it is the “Europeans” and reforming economists in high office who can best “eliminate Francoism.” But they may find that recrossing the Rubicon is a task of great delicacy and difficulty.

Franco probably gives little time to political theory. Mr. Welles portrays him as a man of great simplicity. When spontaneous strikes are considered the work of Communists, sophistication is superfluous; only the Communists agree with him. His main asset is what a nineteenth-century Minister of the Interior, reflecting on the chaos of the revolutionary period 1869-74, called “the anxiety to live.” After civil wars the desire to survive, to avoid renewed conflict, guarantees, as Hobbes once argued, the power of the sovereign.

I do not find the burden of rule heavy. Spain is easy to govern.” With memories of 1936 kept deliberately alive—even if the younger generation find these memories increasingly irrelevant—and with the boom of 1960 under way, the Caudillo may well have justification for an assertion that Philip II could not have made. Yet how different the world is. Mr. Welles describes the Caudillo, keeping his distance, but affable and devoted to his grandchildren, with his knick-knacks about the place—elephants’ tusks, china parrots, tables cunningly made from wagon wheels—with his modern executive’s hatred of paper. It is a long way from the bureaucrat of the Escorial contemplating eternity in the work of Hieronymus Bosch.

Mr. Welles is most interesting on the effects of United States policy. The rapprochement with the United States satisfied Franco’s pretensions as a political seer. “They”—i.e., the hostile incomprehending democrats fed upon repetitions of the Black Legend—might expel him from the United Nations and slander his rule but, in the end, they would need him; he, before them all, had seen the dangers of Communism. On President Eisenhower’s visit, after struggling through the “Yellow Rose of Texas,” the attendant military band struck up the “Stars and Stripes Forever.” Not without justification a tear, of gratification not of regret, appeared in the Caudillo’s eye. “They” had come to him.

There can be little doubt that the ostracism of Spain (in which British Labour Governments specialize) strengthened Franco’s hold on his compatriots just as it is argued by Welles that entry into Europe via the Common Market must loosen it. Loosening up there must be; indeed, within the framework of authoritarianism, it has already taken place. Those who knew the closed society of 1945 can scarcely recognize the Spain Mr. Welles describes. But the framework remains: it must remain questionable whether, in such circumstances, the pace of “liberalization” can be fast enough to ensure a peaceful take over by the official monarchical “solution” or even to permit entry into the Common Market. It is this situation which haunts Spaniards; of no other European power can it be said that its future is anyone’s guess. That the United States seems to accept what exists for what it is provides the thinking Spaniard with little consolation.

For Mr. Welles the self-portrait of Nationalist Spain was that of a “fortress under siege.” For this reason, perhaps, the siege of the Alcázar of Toledo in 1936 has been a compulsive subject; from the seventy-day resistance of an assortment of Civil Guards and soldiers in an old-fashioned fortress, Nationalist Spain dates as an emotive concern. Hence the interest of Nationalist historians to keep the heroic legend intact and the zeal displayed by Republicans in its destruction.

Mr. Eby’s book is a straightforward narrative of these seventy days written with great verve and unburdened by that polemical argument over detail which has become habitual. He is not concerned, as was Antonio Vilanova, with crushing cross examinations of Nationalist accounts and precise demonstration of the weakness of the Republican forces—thus diminishing the “heroism” of the defenders. Nor is he engaged, as was Aznar, in the defense of a legend. Yet the historiography of the siege is as interesting as the siege itself. Without precise references in such a thorny field, Mr. Eby’s book will be less useful to historians than Vilanova’s flat account. Its virtue is readability.

To Nationalist historians the whole episode was dominated by an undistinguished middle-aged colonel whose passions were football and army athletics and who had hoped to get off to the Olympic Games in Berlin. Moscardó happened to be the senior officer on the spot and from such accidents heroes are created. Often incompetent—for instance he could have got hold of more food—he was only prevented from a bad error of judgment and timing at the very start by Colonel Romero, a dry Castillian, who insisted that the outlying Civil Guards be brought in to defend the Alcázar. It was the duros, the hard ones, among the defenders, who kept him up to the mark.

The precise nature and chronology of the famous telephone conversation in which Moscardó was presented with the choice of his son’s life or the surrender of the fortress has become a polemical issue because Moscardó’s “sacrifice” of his son is, to Nationalists, the central emotive episode of this legend. As commander, Mr. Eby argues in a footnote, he could not have acted other than he did; an officer who surrendered a fortress to save his son’s life would have been court martialed and shot by his own side. As so frequently in the polemics of the Civil War, one is left with a feeling of indecent rummaging in the realms of private tragedy.

The resistance of the Alcázar raises fascinating problems of logistics and of the influence of symbolism in Civil Wars. The Alcázar immediately became the symbol of the resistance of Nationalist Spain to the “red” hordes of “perverse” militia men; Franco could not let the symbol fail and therefore turned aside to relieve the Alcázar in the last stage of his march to Madrid. The time he lost—at a period when he was beginning to experience the truth of Clausewitz’s maxims on weakness at the culminating point of advance—meant that he arrived late in the suburbs of Madrid. A few days before he might have taken an unprepared and undefended city. For a lesser symbol he lost the greatest symbol of all—Madrid.

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