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Whither Spain?

In response to:

Spain on the Brink from the November 27, 1975 issue

To the Editors:

Among the 342 uses of “blue” in the unabridged Websters Third New International Dictionary we do not encounter an implication which is frequently understood in the Spanish language, that is: “fascist, Falangist, and conservative.”

In response to Barbara P. Solomon’s article “Spain on the Brink” [NYR, November 27, 1975] we must acknowledge the thorough job she has done in presenting her point of view on the dubious and uncertain future of Spain with the new King Juan Carlos the First. However, in her article we note the absence of a specific argument. The final point that Spain has to change under the new King does not follow the analysis of the rest of the essay, and it is not clear what changes she refers to. In addition, Juan Carlos is presented as a liberal solution to the previous regime, which is rather questionable. Also, the leftist groups appear somewhat distorted (especially Morodo’s socialists). Lastly, the article contains assertions of dubious validity which are not systematically linked. Let us explain these points.

The conclusion of the article that after decades of dictatorship Spain must change, and that “the fearful isolation in which thirty-five million Spaniards have been forced to live cannot now continue” (p. 27), is a clear case of wishful thinking. The long and awaited inaugural speech which initiated the new King, and his partial amnesty, demonstrate our assertion. In contrast to other opinions we do believe that dictatorships can be inherited; and this has been the fate of Spain for the last centuries. One of the theses of the article supports an inevitable change in the country: “Juan Carlos in the next months must make some modest gains toward liberalization…if he is to become a plausible leader of the Spanish people…” (p. 22). We should not accept the simplistic idea that the situation in Spain will substantially change under Juan Carlos, but on the other hand we should take a look at the reality of the Spanish society and the change of the different social groups. It will probably take years to achieve the recognition of political opposition (left-wing parties) and the right to free speech, press and association. Unless the left is able to come up with a counter-plan in the near future we are afraid that Spain will remain under the reins—or the reign—of a hidden dictatorship.

After Franco’s death on November 20th it was evident that Franco was the conservatives’ last straw to hold their power. They tried desperately to keep him alive, even against his nature, and through a continual mutilation of his body during three surgical operations. Why keep Franco alive? In the years before the Civil War of 1936-1939 the bourgeoisie lost the political power at least twice, and was horrified by the increasing role of the workers (trade unions, anarchists, communists, and socialists). This bourgeoisie was the one that created, supported, and organized the military coup which has lasted for thirty-nine years and seems to find its continuance with the new military-king.

But Franco—or better Franquismo—has been a monster (or a “villain” according to Bernard Levin’s article, “Looking for a new Lucifer” [Newsweek, November 10, 1975]) with several heads. Franquismo was first born with an imperialist costume, appealing to unity and autarchy by employing all sorts of repressive measures. When this role began to malfunction for several sectors of the bourgeoisie, the new face of National-Catholicism substituted it (the days of the Acción Católica Nacional de Propagandistas, the newspaper Ya, and so on). After, the monster changed to a technocratic face (the well known Opus Dei era) which injected in the government enough rationality to continue in its irrationality. When this face became corrupted, both in the material and moral sense, the monster took off its mask and appeared as Franco himself—a decaying Franco surrounded by his ambitious family. Finally, as this face was repulsed by the European Common Market and as the alter ego—Carrero Blanco—had been killed, the monster transformed itself into a vaporous ideology, the Movimiento, or the official single party combined with the bluff of the political associations. Thus the monster has changed faces numerous times while in power: 1947, 1959, 1971, and 1974; but the body remained the same.

Is Juan Carlos a new face of the same monster? We believe that he is again a paradigm of the right; he may be considered as the strategy of the conservatives to preserve the power in a period of weakness and political turmoil; this situation is what we call in Spanish: “the same dogs with different collars” (los mismos perros con distintos collares). In addition to ad hominem references to Juan Carlos’s (physical) size, or his (limited) mental abilities, he is the person who was behind Franco during the last rally at the Palacio de Oriente in Madrid, and who welcomed Franco’s idea of an international masonic-communist plot against Spain. The person who greeted Pinochet—the world-wide villain—recently in Madrid. The person, according to reliable sources, who internalized Franco’s terror toward communism and socialism, and who seems to have no intention of accepting political parties in the Spanish arena. Then, in what points is Juan Carlos I different from Franco? This is difficult to say.

In order to understand the possibilities of Juan Carlos’s reign it is important to analyze the political inclinations of the Spanish people. To affirm (as Ms. Solomon does) that the socialists would obtain the majority of the votes is a somewhat naïve statement. Christian Democrats, or even the men (sic) of the Movimiento would be far ahead in a general election. Nevertheless, to speak of numbers without having a concrete electoral law in front of us is rather risky. The essay fails to mention the large support that the Franco regime received. We must admit that his supporters were not only functionaries and military personnel who directly served the Franco regime, but there is also a whole generation, the children of the Civil War, who have slowly built their way up to a more comfortable position under the Franco regime and will continue to do so under the new Monarchy. This class as well as the adherents to the Franco regime will support continuance in an equal manner under the reign of Juan Carlos 1.

We should note that this middle class in Spain is to a great extent a non-politicized sector of the society and, therefore, demonstrates an indifferent attitude toward politics. We were able to witness this attitude at Franco’s impressive funeral. Certain sectors of the society might conform with a pseudo-liberalization, first for the sake of peace and the possibility—or the illusion—of social mobility; second, for a most probable contact with the Common Market as a result of the nominal change of the regime. Hence, their interests will remain favored as with Franco and obviously slightly ameliorated. The left is presently waiting around to see if the newly coronated King will allow them to play in the political game. However, the inaugural speech on November 22, 1975 was quite ambiguous about his stands regarding the left and extreme right opposition, and their role in the future. It was a non-committing speech, which could be interpreted similarly by both sides.

Thus, Solomon’s idea that the whole political situation should change in the near future just because some of the sectors in society have changed does not follow the rules of scientific logic. The power of the bourgeoisie remains the same, or even greater. And a new King seems to many a retrocession to the Middle Ages in the Spanish fairy tales of monsters and princes. If Juan Carlos I fails to defend the interests of the bourgeoisie another group will take the power as might be the military, different monarchic groups, the fascists, the integrists (known as the “bunker”), even the Catholics or the Opus Dei. Obviously, we cannot forget the left (both the Junta Democrática and the Convergencia) and its potential to create a historical pact à la Italian, but the suspicion is that internal dissonance is great, and confidence among their leaders weak. Some of the groups would better prefer a piece of the present cake than a share of the forthcoming socialist paradise….

Melissa G. Moyer

Georgetown University, Washington, DC

Jesús M. de Miguel

Depto. de Sociología

Universidad Autónoma de Barcelona

Bellaterra, Barcelona

Barbara Probst Solomon replies:

I am delighted to receive your letter postmarked Barcelona—this is the first open letter The New York Review of Books has received from an opponent of the regime in Spain. Your letter is one of the many signs of the beginnings of open dissent and debate now going on; of course, the fact that your letter arrived signed—which would have been out of the question a few months ago—somewhat undercuts your argument that the present Spanish situation is totally lacking in possibilities for a radically new politics.

Clearly Juan Carlos does not occupy the sacrosanct position of Franco. As there was nothing in my article to indicate that I am a supporter of Juan Carlos, I must assume, if I grasp the inner logic of your letter correctly, that my article is being used as a forum for your debate not only with me, but with various segments of the opposition with which you seem to be in tactical disagreement.

As I predicted in my article, the general amnesty granted by Juan Carlos turned out to be mere window dressing. Obviously, the government must make good its promise to achieve true amnesty—and soon—if one is to take seriously its promise to democratize Spain. As I also predicted, Motrico and Fraga Iribarne are strong members of the new cabinet. Thus far, moderates within the regime have proven to be stronger than those on the ultra-right. In fact, the government is beginning to make an attempt to round up right-wing fanatics. At the same time, police have seemed restrained at some of the amnesty demonstrations in Barcelona, Madrid, and the Basque country; they have been more brutal in dealing with the striking subway and postal workers.

The labor leader, Marcelino Camacho has been granted his passport; whether the exiled Communist party leader, Santiago Carrillo, will also be granted a passport is at least being hotly debated.

Liberalization” is by no means an accomplished fact in Spain. The ultra-right holds firmly entrenched positions within government, particularly the army and the police. As I predicted, legalization of the trade unions and of the Communist party are currently explosive issues. The appointment of the ultra-rightist holdover from the old regime, Jose Solis, to the key post of Minister of Labor was a poor choice in view of the currently severe strikes and the need to have a minister capable of negotiating with labor. The resolution of the labor problem depends a great deal upon how Fraga Iribarne, Minister of the Interior, exerts his power over the police—whether he chooses to reinforce the rights of the privileged classes, or whether he responds to labor and amnesty demonstrations to allow some concrete steps toward increased democracy.

But, at the same time, one must acknowledge that, as sporadically repressive as the new regime is likely to remain for some time, a “door” has opened. Censorhip is lifting—Cambio 16, the mass circulation weekly, published its New Year’s issue with “HAPPY FREE YEAR” splashed across its cover, and its current issue exposes CIA activities within Spain; Madrid, the daily newspaper suspended since 1971 for its attempt at Western European-style journalism, will be back on the stands soon; and Avui, the first Catalan newspaper since 1939, is scheduled for publication in Barcelona in March. All this activity suggests that the Spaniards are losing their fears and are becoming bold and forthright in their demands. Indeed many former conservatives are jumping on the left-wing band wagon.

If I had intended to write a theoretical, historic explanation of Spanish politics, I would, of course, have gone into the history of trade unionism in Spain, and the problems caused during the Civil War by bitter rivalries between the anarchist movement (CNT) and the Communists. The influence of anarcho-syndicalism on Spanish political thought would have been central to such a discussion, for it remains an important factor today. But nothing that has happened since I wrote negates the possibility that major political changes could take place. Just before her recent death, Hannah Arendt raised the possibility of restitution for Spanish political refugees and prisoners, somewhat along the lines of what was done in post-war Germany for the victims of the Nazis. She did not have time to write on this; but Nancy MacDonald of the Spanish Refugees Aid Inc. in New York has recently appealed for “full restitution” and it would not be surprising if such claims were eventually made against the regime in Spain itself.

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