Why have so many observers since Dr. Johnson found in Spain an inexplicable singularity? To intelligent Spaniards, although they may enjoy the old gambits of seeking the roots of “Spanishness,” this incomprehension has always been an irritation: they see themselves as part of Europe and resent travelers who find in the flamenco and the bullfight the essence of Spanish nationality. Other Spaniards have gloried in cultural and psychological isolationism. Spain is the unchanging mirror held up to the West—above all to the United States—in which can be observed the ugly distortions of civilizations that have forgotten the Council of Trent.
Spain’s uniqueness today is not mysterious; it springs from actual historical experience. The political anomie left by the Civil War, perpetuated by the regime’s vision of the Red Republic and the depression of the Forties, in themselves explain the quiescence of the now middle-aged. But behind these recent catastrophes lie three centuries of national frustration. Much can be explained by Spain’s continuing poverty in a century when the rest of the world was growing rich. As Aristotle observed, austerity, one of the many supposedly Spanish virtues, is an obligatory virtue for the poor—it is not “typical,” occurring only in those who have Berber blood. Humiliation and loss of the greatest empire of the world in a century when other Western powers were building empires emphasized Spanish introversion. Both Mr. Crozier and Mr. Hills stress the effect of defect by the United States in 1898 on the mind of the young Franco, sprung from a family of naval civil servants. When the Spanish fleet was sunk, it happened that the country was ruled by liberal party politicians manipulating a democratic system. Ergo Party politics had ruined Spain and, having been eliminated by generals in 1936, must not be allowed to return. This piece of historical interpretation is General Franco’s primary political principle; he uses it to prevent any genuine discussion of the problem of the succession. Debate, according to the Generalissimo, will release those “particular furies” that have torn Spain since 1808: politicians and parties.
Neither Mr. Michener nor Mr. Brossard pays much attention to historical explanation. The former’s long, diffuse book contains fascinating historical illustration; but it is the Moors, Ferdinand and Isabella, the Jews, St. James, not Prim, Cánovas, and Azaña, who fascinate him. Of course he has the middle-aged intellectual’s guilt about the Civil War, but the has no feeling for those drearier stretches of modern history, where things are gray rather than black and white, even in Spain, and which explain so much at the cost of so much boring work.
Mr. Brossard is an impressionist, who gives us sketches of the satisfied and sharp businessman, the sensitive prostitute, the progressive priest, the Civil Guard (a compulsory ingredient since Lorca made the men in patent leather hats the symbol of the brutality of the State), the expatriate American, the student rebel whose reading list starts with Walt Whitman and ends, via Neruda and Sartre, with Ho Chi Minh and Castro.
Once one can discard such Romantic trivia as Orson Welles’s views on bullfighting (bullfighting should be abolished, not on humanitarian grounds but because of the mushy “technical” writing it has inspired), or the author’s own obsession with flamenco, there is much of interest in Mr. Michener’s book. The Spain he reveals is no longer the refuge of the solitary eccentric nor is it a suitably primitive backcloth for the postures of the American he-man, but the playground of the Teutonic masses: the Swedes—those exemplars of the sexual revolution in a traditional society—and the Germans, herded in coach-loads through bad hotels, ending up in skyscrapers on the Mediterranean, and exclaiming “Olé!” at bullfights in Palma de Mallorca.
Mr. Michener is a conscientious observer—as anyone who spends ten hours following a float in the Seville procession must be—and his culture is wide. Chamber music at Pamplona sets off reflections on the failure of Spanish music after Vittoria. Here we come back to the vicious circle of poverty. How can a great music flourish where there are few orchestras? “Books,” remarked Townshend in 1786, “are little read.” They remain pleasant decorations in bourgeois homes. Under-employed or under-appreciated intellectuals usually end up as violent critics of society in the Café Gijón.
Of course life is not made easier for them by the censorship and an ambiguous press law which scares publishers. I have never been able to understand the abysmal level of domestic reporting in the Spanish press. Admirers of General Franco usually point out that the Spanish censorship was as nothing compared to that of the Soviet Union. True, but a strange defense. Looking back on the literature of Spain in the last twenty years, one cannot share Mr. Hills’s view of the vitality of Spanish intellectual life nor Mr. Crozier’s view that the existing regime may be liberalized to allow effective public discussion. Now, practicing journalists are protesting against “juridical insecurity,” the cat-and-mouse game of fines and short imprisonment which is meted out for even oblique-political criticism. Perhaps General Franco shares Madame Nhu’s view that once you open the windows, not only sunlight but nasty things fly in.
Mr. Brossard is a romantic in search of an uncontaminated civilization, a repository of “human” values; he finds in the Spanish street a refuge from the impersonality of Fifth Avenue. This discontent he displays in a series of vignettes. Two of these are depressing. Both deal with the opposition to General Franco’s rule. From the neoterrorism of Basque nationalists, the demonstrations of students, the activities last year of the Workers’ Commissions (“unofficial” unions set up in opposition to the official Syndicates), to the reasoned protests of intellectuals, this public opposition comes as a surprise to old Spanish hands who remember the whisper campaigns, the easily suppressed resistance movements of the Forties and Fifties. The Government has imprisoned many Basques closed the universities, and broken up student demonstrations by police action; it has suppressed both the Workers’ Commissions and mild opposition journals. Violent opposition, however, concerns only a minority. Effective suppression combines with the impermeability of a reasonably satisfied majority to produce extremism. Extremism frightens the satisfied who cannot face the risks of change. The circle of Spanish politics is completed.
The most acceptable change would be a constitutional monarchy; it would reassure conservatives and give radicals a public platform. Evolutionary progressives see such a monarchy as a two-party parliamentary system run by Christian Democrats and Socialists. Hence the relevance of Mr. Brossard’s sympathetic portrait of a worker priest, member of a future Christian Democrat Left. The trouble is that the priest is so muddled: only in the higher reaches of Christian Democratic philosophy can Marx and Aquinas be reconciled. Opposition, in a regime of silence, creates stranger bedfellows. Workers’ Commissions meet in vestries. Priests teach students protest songs. The quest for power in a free regime may prove divisive when the priests and the workers come to define what they mean by the current slogan of “socialist democracy.” It is the same with the monarchy. Many Spaniards accept it as a successor regime; but probably most now accept it, hoping to destroy it at a later date as an anachronism. It may be that neither the church nor the monarchy can be “modernized” enough to contain their traditional enemies on the Left.
Mr. Brossard’s other cautionary vignette concerns the Basque underground. Basque separatists are sympathetic because of the purity of their aim—a Basque state. “We will keep fighting until we are recognized, or until we die.” The Basque underground is, however, also part of the European revolutionary youth movement, and terrifies and embarrasses the middle-aged representatives of the older nonviolent Basque nationalism. Its uncompromising aim may ruin the hope of rational decentralization under a monarchy, or in a Republic; a minority of uncompromising men can play havoc with a democratic society. Consensus is now a dirty word, discredited alike in polities and sociology; however, it still remains true that societies stick together only when no one meets defeat, Spanish fashion, by total violence. Most commentators are so hypnotized by the problems of the succession that they do not see that a change of regime will not solve all problems. The regional problem will persist, whether General Franco is in power or not. So will the problem of ensuring the continuance of the prosperity associated with his rule.
Like all governments, the present government worries less about the future than the present: its problems are problems of public order and prosperity. Neither Mr. Hills not Mr. Crozier explains how Franco’s narrow conception of government has outlasted the repeated prophecies of its imminent disruption, how things have remained much the same after every outburst. Both concentrate on the Generalissimo’s rise to power and his rule up to the early Forties. He was a courageous officer and a competent general. Mr. Hills’s defense of him as a modern general—his German allies dismissed him as a slow learner and a technical ignoramus—is fascinating and convincing. Franco was a ruthless, charmless politician whose vision of history provided him with a clear policy.
Both see in his political expertise—he asked for a copy of Machiavelli at the height of the Civil War—a sufficient explanation of his durability. Spanish generals since 1808 have rarely been political innocents; but Franco (whose caution in conspiracy against the Republic as both his biographers show, drove hotheads to distraction) suddenly in April 1937 revealed a tough political talent which never deserted him. He eliminated the radical Falangists and the traditional Carlists in a near, short crisis, setting up the oneparty “movement” as an instrument of his own power and the ideological foundation of modern Spain.
It is unfortunate that neither Mr. Crozier nor Mr. Hills was able to draw on Señor Garciá Venero’s recent biography of Hedilla, the figurehead of radical Falangists who hoped to convert the Spanish proletariat to a nationalist corporation State. His account of the elimination of Hedilla shows the emergence of a politician who cannot be dismissed as a cheap Fascist. General Franco is a bourgeois edition of Philip II, a reincarnation of those nineteenth-century generals who saw liberty as incompatible with order, rather than a Spanish edition of Mussolini.
Both biographers, therefore, see in the Great Balancing Act the source of Franco’s success. General Franco, as Mr. Crozier describes in detail, balanced between Hitler and the Allies. Once the technocrats of Opus Dei, a lay organization of committed Catholics in official and academic life, called by its opponents the Octopus Dei, had broken the movement’s monopoly of ministerial power, the Caudillo had to balance their wish of. bringing Spain into the European economy against the yearning for the postwar autarchy of the surviving Falangists. But the balancing act has always been performed between forces that back the regime, or at least see no alternative to it. What happens when the forces who will not cooperate become so strong that they cannot be ignored?
There are two answers, both depressing to those in opposition who have for nearly thirty years refused to face reality, and who, as a regrettable consequence, present criticism but no political alternative. In the first place, the regime has had palpable successes. General Franco kept Spain, if not neutral, at least out of the war, driving Hitler to fury. The United States had to accept him on his own terms; ostracized as a fascist, he was later embraced by President Eisenhower to the strains of “The Yellow Rose of Texas.” Even if Franco can claim little personal credit for the economic miracle (rapid expansion can easily occur in an underdeveloped country which can industrialize without crippling balance of payment problems), no one who knew the Forties can forget scrounging for food. As the quick-eyed businessman in an expensive English coat told Mr. Brossard: “We should be grateful. I can do business with anyone.”
To put it crudely, General Franco, like so many successful Spanish soldiers a lower middle-class man, has calculated that an increasingly middle-class society prefers cars to politics. Some of this prosperity—high profits notwithstanding—has rubbed off on other sections of the community. The boom is perhaps over. Now the same businessman finds himself with unsold stocks and a depleted order book. His workers face a shrinking labor market and high prices. No one can say what the workers will do once the relative prosperity, which kept an organized labor opposition from getting off the ground, has receded; but at any rate they do not seem a revolutionary force any more than does the disgruntled businessman. A wage freeze and dividend restrictions look ominous to a society that has known a steady rise in production of more than 10 percent a year. Paradoxically, the most terrible problem facing any successor is maintaining the economic expansion which, until last year, characterized the later phase of General Franco’s rule. Classic liberal freedoms—genuinely and rightly desired by many—will not compensate for, nor outlast, any dramatic loss of prosperity. Without prosperity the prospects of a liberal monarchy, for example, are bleak indeed.
The second factor is the success of the regime in depoliticizing the mass of Spaniards, an achievement which Mr. Crozier and Mr. Hills presumably see as a positive one, largely because they share the foundations of Franco’s political creed, derived from a belief that nineteenth-century liberalism was “unsuited” to Spain. Liberalism produced political parties and political parties ruined Spain. All but the young have been prevented from thinking in political terms. This leaves the organized opposition relatively small, excessively fissiparous, often unreasonably optimistic. “Spain’s working classes are united. And we are like brothers with the students and intellectuals,” says a young worker to Mr. Brossard. Whoever believes this can believe anything. The CIA no doubt broods over all this: what happens if this fragmented opposition suddenly and unexpectedly wins out? Won’t the new Popular Front be dominated by its only strong and organized constituent body, the Communist Party?
Where dissent cannot be organized politically, students become a revolutionary vanguard, a vanguard of bourgeois extraction since only a minute proportion of workers reaches the university. In Spain, students have always troubled authoritarian regimes. Even General Franco must shudder when he contemplates the fate of his milder predecessor, General Primo de Rivera, the iron surgeon—to use Costa’s phrase—of the boom years in the Twenties, discredited by students shouting “Allá vá! Ra! Ra! Ra!” But Primo’s police were so poorly equipped that they had to hire taxis off the street, and his generals were plotting against him; General Franco, on the other hand, has a formidable police force and a loyal army.
As in France, the students have their legitimate grievances—professors who do not lecture, antiquated courses, an official union which does not represent their wishes. But their political leadership is weak, and the political philosophies of the activists irrelevant to the needs of Spain and unacceptable to most Spaniards. A student’s banner, “Violence alone can make society better,” is a strange device to present to workers who, even if young, know the price of the defeat of 1936-9 and the inevitability of a similar defeat now. The labor troubles of last May and the “random” strikes revealed a familiar pattern: apparent crisis and a return to normalcy in which tensions persist. Workers for the most part dislike their present conditions and wish to keep up the pressure on wages in a period of rising prices but this does not mean they will take lessons from the youthful bourgeois admirers of Che Guevara.
With the army and police loyal, things will probably go on as they are. It is a saddening thought that moderate Spaniards today are demanding what they demanded in the 1830s: a limited liberalization of autocracy. And, as in the 1830s, the fate of Spain is probably bound up with the fate and example of France. The Spaniards, for all their uniqueness, have a long record of political mimicry, and one of the explanations of General Franco’s success is the conservative temper that has ruled Europe since the war. In May, Spaniards looked with hope or fear to Paris. A leader of the Opus Dei used the other general as a model to criticize General Franco; had De Gaulle fallen, Franco would have been in serious trouble. But De Gaulle saw that the final arbiter was the army and the ultimate political truth the conservatism of those with something to lose. This was a lesson that the Caudillo of Spain did not have to learn. The collapse of the conservative evolutionary order in Europe is a precondition for a new struggle for power in Spain. Both may come in the 1970s.
December 19, 1968