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Out of the Labyrinth

Spain: Dictatorship to Democracy

by Raymond Carr, by Juan Pablo Fusi
Allen & Unwin, 288 pp., $29.95

Professor Raymond Carr is the author of the standard history of nineteenth-century Spain, and his present collaborator, Dr. Juan Pablo Fusi, has had experience of labor movements in the Basque country. It is not therefore surprising that their book should be so admirable. It is a densely packed work, very professional in style and completely without bias, so that when one has read it one feels one knows everything one wants to know about these dramatic events. Great care has been taken to discover the truth and one may, I think, trust the authors’ judgment completely.

To begin with, the portrait it gives of Franco is just right. He was not a man whom many people could feel drawn to and he had a very limited mind, yet his strong rather negative charisma combined with his absolute confidence in himself and his instinct for keeping in power by playing off one group against another made him for forty years the undisputed master of his country. His slowness of mind turned out to be a merit: in a land where everyone talks fluently, he listened and said nothing. His caution too was proverbial, but when he decided he must act he did so at once. He could then be ruthless at getting rid of even his closest collaborators without softening their dismissal by an explanation.

Yet it would be a great mistake to take him as the bogeyman he is represented as being in left-wing propaganda. He had the narrow authoritarian and nationalist views of the typical Spanish officer, strengthened by a strong contempt for the disastrous republic he had overthrown, but he ended up by accomplishing something that no one else had ever done—that is, he raised the level of life of every class from the misery and semi-starvation of the postwar years to the (for Spain) unbelievably high level of 1975. No one who had lived in that country before 1936 could believe his eyes when he saw the flood of cars and motorcycles and butane stoves and washing machines and refrigerators and television sets that began to invade the country and be snapped up by people of every sort in the 1960s and on till the present day. The huge gap between the working man’s income and that of even the modest bourgeois which had made the real problems of Spain insoluble before this time now existed no longer. One may say that it was Franco’s expenditure on education and the great lift he gave to the working-class level of subsistence that made possible the democracy that succeeded him.

Those who can see no good in a dictator maintain that this was not his personal doing, but was part of the European boom of the Sixties. Had he, they say, been more adroit he would have taken even better advantage of it. No doubt there is some truth in this, for Spaniards have never been good at planning, but Carr shows that the “economic miracle,” as it is called, of the Sixties had been prepared some years before by Franco’s ministers, so that Franco is fully entitled to the credit for what happened. Indeed it was part of his system to secure for the working classes a high standard of living, for then, he imagined, they would be contented with their lot and not go whoring after those false ideals of liberalism and socialism that he detested so much. It was for this reason that he broke with the Falangist ideal of autarky that had prevailed in the first years of his rule and introduced the technocrats of the Opus Dei who soon saw to it that the hunger and lack, which from the Middle Ages on had been a constant element in Spanish life, vanished from the scene and a consumer market that provided the goods that everyone wanted and needed took its place. One has to have lived in Spain to see the enormous change that some of these goods made to the quality and ease of life. And tractors for plowing and small motor plows and threshing machines accompanied them.

It thus happened that when Franco died there was a certain feeling of regret among those Spanish workers—and they were many—who had not been politically indoctrinated because they felt that he had done so much for them and that his life guaranteed their security. But this lasted for only a very short time, for within a few weeks an irresistible wave of optimism and euphoria broke over almost the whole of the country, bearing a certain number of his former supporters along with it. People felt free for the first time in forty years: the absurd, repressive system of government had vanished and a new, radiant future had opened before them. They were now going to rule themselves.

However, as Carr explains, there were great obstacles to be overcome before this could happen, for Franco’s men were still in power, backed by the army, and everything possible had been done by the dead dictator to block the road to popular elections. But now a second miracle took place, this time a political one. The young king, Juan Carlos, who up to this moment had kept his real opinions to himself, turned out to be determined that the country he ruled should be a modern democracy, and he was the key figure in the situation because the army could not easily rise against him to preserve Franco’s principles since it was traditionally royalist. There followed some months of agonizing uncertainty while the old government continued in power, then suddenly the king had the good luck to obtain in Adolfo Suárez a minister whose ideas coincided with his own and whose brilliant political gifts found a way of circumventing the old forces of reaction and within a year holding parliamentary elections.

This required however a good deal of arrangement. First a Law of Political Reform that created a bicameral system based on universal suffrage was passed through the Cortes by a large majority, though against the secret wishes of most of its members. A plebiscite was then held that gave its approval by 94 percent affirmative votes to 2.6 percent against (77.4 percent of the electorate voted). The Falangist syndicates or trade unions were dismantled, an amnesty granted to political prisoners, and negotiations began with the Catalan and Basque nationalists. The permission to organize political parties had already been given, but there was such opposition by the army and the Cortes to the recognition of the Communists that this had to be done by decree. At the same time Suárez conferred with them and with the Socialists and secured their agreement to what he had done as well as their somewhat reluctant acceptance of the monarchy. All this was carried through without a hitch in spite of continual scares that the army would rise and intervene.

There emerged from the elections, which were held in June 1977, two large parties, the UCD, or Union of Central Parties, which was a group of Liberals and Christian Democrats led by Suárez, and the PSOE or Socialist Party, led by the young and popular Felipe González, with Santiago Carrillo’s small but active Euro-Communist Party trailing enthusiastically behind. The parties that stood for Franco’s ideas were small but vociferous.

The Cortes met at once to work out a new constitution in an atmosphere of great friendliness, which made a sharp contrast to the hatred and vituperation that had characterized its debates in the time of the Republic. Its first act was to re-establish self-government in Catalonia and to give a pre-autonomy to the Basques. Fifteen months later its statutes were approved by the Congress and Senate and, after being submitted to a referendum, sanctioned by the king. Here this book ends, but I will add that in the spring of 1979 new elections were held that gave much the same results and after them municipal elections in which the left were the main gainers. It had been agreed that the municipalities should have more power than they had had in previous governments, and it was encouraging that most of the mayors elected were young men often under thirty, as were the deputies to the Cortes. Everything seemed to be set fair for this new and optimistic democracy.

And yet, as Carr points out, there were things that cast their shadow over this hopeful-looking scene. The economic situation was very bad. Since 1975 there had been a steep inflation which had doubled the cost of living. This led to strikes followed by wage increases which used up the employers’ profits and so limited their investments. Some 10 percent of the labor force was unemployed while the immigration to France and Germany, which in the past had done so much to relieve unemployment and send the emigrants home with something in their pockets, had come to an end. The Socialist and Communist Parties were of course fully aware of this and agreed with the Suárez government to do their best to keep wages down. But there was a danger that, as in England, the unions would rebel and that inflation would rise to dangerous levels. If then the Socialist Party, of which half was Marxist and half Social Democrat, became more radical in its demands, a situation of chaos might arise which would stir up the old Franco supporters and even provoke the army. Spain was in fact very much in the position of the Western democracies, not slowly dying like England of indolence and excessive expectancy, but still facing a future that was decidedly precarious. The one good sign is that large multinational corporations have begun investing in the country and starting new industries.

One thing that has disturbed Spaniards greatly has been the immense increase in crimes of violence. Burglaries, purse snatchings, and muggings have become very frequent in the cities so that a phrase has been coined: “Democracy means that you can’t go out after dark.” These crimes are committed by hooligans and the police usually know who they are, but cannot secure convictions because the laws of evidence in the courts have been tightened up and so favor the criminal. It seems that Spaniards will either have to alter this or to recognize that they now belong to Europe and must be prepared to suffer from acts of street violence as the Europeans and Americans do. In Franco’s day they were exempt from such things.

The other great problem facing the Spanish democracy lies in the Basque terrorist group known as the ETA. The Basques are a stolid, unimaginative, hard-working, prosperous people, very Catholic in temper, whose chief gift to Spain has taken the form of bankers and industrialists. They have a language inherited from the Stone Age that is slowly dying out because it is unsuited to modern times and so difficult that no one can learn it. But they are all strongly set on their ancient fueros or rights, and the Republic gave them a statute of autonomy which Franco took away from them. The ETA began its terrorist campaign in 1970 by killing policemen and three years later they blew up Admiral Carrero Blanco, the president of the government and Franco’s closest friend, who if he had lived would have made the introduction of a democracy more difficult. The repression that followed this was so severe that it created a wave of sympathy for them among their fellow Basques that strengthened their position, but it was expected that when the democratic government came in with its offer of autonomy these terroristic activities of theirs would cease. But just the contrary has happened.

I recently met a man who knew one of the ETA gunmen and he described him as a young man with few ideas of his own, who enjoyed going out to shoot policemen and army officers in the back just as a sportsman enjoys shooting partridges. It seems strange that such an extreme but tiny group should get the tacit support of the respectable and bourgeois Basque National Party, but it is possible that its activities are kept as a lever for putting pressure on the Spanish government to obtain a wider measure of autonomy. However, the ETA has its own revolutionary and Marxist aims which go far beyond nationalism, and it seems clear that it intends to go on murdering policemen and army officers and exploding bombs on the Costa del Sol to scare away tourists in the hopes of bringing down the new but still unconsolidated Spanish democracy. Since there is a limit to the amount of disorder and anarchy that the army will stand, the ETA, as Carr points out, constitutes a very real threat to the new regime, all the more since the act of repressing it creates sympathy for it among ordinary people and thus prolongs its existence. The very similar situation in Ulster provides a warning.

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