Professor Payne is a man of few illusions. He has a profound contempt for utopian politics and a marked distrust, if not distaste, for the left in general. He would seem to regard Franco’s dictatorship as a deserved punishment for the follies and failures of democracy in the Second Republic of 1931. He argues that the sudden eruption of mass politics polarized Spanish society and that by 1936 the government of the Popular Front, elected by a narrow majority in February 1936, was in the process of becoming a prisoner of the revolutionary left. This completed the contrary process by which the right became counterrevolutionary. When Calvo Sotelo, the leader of the counterrevolutionary right, was assassinated by government agents on the night of July 12–13 there was, Payne argues, little alternative for the right but to take up arms against what was rapidly on the way to becoming a totalitarian regime of the left. The last attempt to satisfy the outraged right and to turn it from violence—Premier Martinez Barrio’s offer on the telephone to General Mola, organizer of the military conspiracy, of a national government—came too late. The center, that utopia of moderates like Professor Payne, had dropped out of political life; only the extremes of right and left remained and they had no alternative but to fight it out to the finish.

I have deep respect for Professor Payne’s scholarship but I have never shared all his views. Perhaps it is a sterile exercise to hold “views” on what might have happened if the Republic had won the Civil War. Would the victorious Republic have created a totalitarian regime dominated by Communists, as ruthless in the physical elimination of its opponents as Franco proved to be of his? Professor Payne has no doubts:

It is difficult to conclude that the result [of a Republican victory] would have been political democracy. The revolutionary war-time People’s Republic was not a liberal democracy but was driven by powerful revolutionary forces determined to proscribe the other side altogether. Its mass political executions were as extensive as those by Franco’s supporters.

Democracy was impossible for the time being. Franco’s solution was “very far from optimal”; but an evolutionary authoritarianism “was in a certain sense about as much as the Spanish could expect from the impasses into which they had maneuvered themselves.” The alternative offered by the Popular Front, Payne insists, was equally unattractive.

These are harsh judgments, and I think unnecessary ones. It is perfectly legitimate to attempt to understand the motives that impelled officers to revolt against the Popular Front government in July 1936; it is another thing to justify them by accusing the Republican government of “latent” authoritarianism. Professor Payne might have made more of the Popular Front government’s recourse to the old Spanish custom of manipulating electoral results after the elections of February 1936: scarcely a democratic proceeding, it is true, but hardly “authoritarian.” “Latent” authoritarianism is a doubtful concept. One must ask what historical events made a latent tendency manifest and here there is room for dissent. Above all, it was the defensive reaction of the politicized masses to the right-wing military revolt of July 18 that handed over the government to the “authoritarian” left. This was a process that—including prison massacres—has its parallels in the French Revolution and the Carlist wars in Spain. As Frederica Montseny, the anarchist minister in the “revolutionary” government formed in November 1936, repeatedly insisted: “It was the generals’ revolt that gave us the revolution we wanted but could not make ourselves.”

Professor Payne is on firmer ground when he criticizes the partisanship of the Popular Front. He argues that anti-fascism existed in strength in Spain, whereas fascism proper was represented only by the relatively unimportant, if violent, Falange of José Antonio Primo de Rivera; the revolution of October 1934, which polarized opinion in Spain, was “formally directed against ‘fascism’ at a time when fascism scarcely existed in Spain.” In fact it was directed against a democratically elected government, however “fascist” its policies and ultimate intentions appeared to the left. In a typical but justifiable aside on the arrest of the Falange leaders in March 1936 Payne writes that the “leaders of all the revolutionary left groups could have been similarly prosecuted with equal justification.”

It was the weakness of this one-sided authoritarianism of the Popular Front government that infuriated the right. I interviewed a number of Franco’s generals after the Civil War, asking them all why they had joined the rising of July 1936. I was impressed by the unanimity of their replies: the “collapse of public order” in the hands of a feeble but partisan government.

As one would expect from the historian of the Falange, Professor Payne’s treatment of the Falange—for example José Antonio’s ambiguity about the use of violence—is authoritative. But it was not fascism in the form of the Falange that mounted the right-wing uprising of July 18; the Falangists were enthusiastic amateurs. The professionals were the conservative counterrevolutionaries and the military conspirators, a handful of generals including, late in the day, General Franco, who was characteristically cautious in committing himself to a risky enterprise. It was the younger officers who embraced these risks without hesitation. Azaña, with the wisdom of hind-sight, remarked that it was soldiers under sixty who were “a national danger.”1



All this forms the prolegomena to the body of Professor Payne’s impressive work. His aim is clearly stated. It is to write a political history of the Franco regime. He devotes a great deal of attention to comparisons with other political systems: Turkey, Italy, the Balkan states, Bonapartism, and so on. These essays in taxonomy are fashionable but futile. They add little to our understanding of Francoism. It is my profoundest conviction that authoritarian political systems can truly be understood only by intensive study of their activities at the local levels for such studies reveal the mechanisms of compliance as they function in daily life.2

There is no great mystery about the grander outlines of Francoism, and very little has been added to the analysis, made by Juan Linz in the 1960s, that it was a conservative, authoritarian system with limited pluralism, limited ability to mobilize its supporters, and lacking a coherent ideology, except in its earliest stages. No political man is an island unto himself and soldiers are rarely original political thinkers. The Caudillo patched together what he always insisted was a “unique” political system, with borrowings from Italian fascism, from traditional Carlism, from Catholic corporativism, from the authoritarian monarchists of Acción Española, and in his later years from the so-called “technocrats” with their recipes for the economic modernization of Spain.

Above all he learned he failure of the benign and well-intentioned dictatorship of Miguel Primo de Rivera (1923–1930) under whose rule Franco had made his military reputation in the Moroccan wars. Thus he never sought to reform an army which he knew to be inefficient and overloaded with officers; he remembered that Primo’s army reforms had alienated army support and precipitated his downfall. Without that support Franco knew he had no chance of survival. It was the generals who, at an aerodrome near Salamanca in October 1936, elevated him to supreme power as generalissimo and head of state. It was the generals who, with occasional misgivings, kept him there.

The main achievement of Payne’s book is his detailed analysis of the significance of the periodic reshuffling of the ministerial teams that accounted for the overt political life of the Francoist state. Having eliminated the vanquished of the Civil War (i.e., to put it broadly, the liberals and the left) from public life, Franco was left with the task of balancing in his ministries the constituent elements within the regime—Falangists, Carlists, orthodox monarchists, army officers—so that no one group could threaten his hold over the system as a whole. It was his success in this balancing act that allowed him to boast, “Spain is easy to govern”; so much so that he could get away from the chores of government on long hunting and fishing trips.3

The second achievement is Payne’s analysis of the role of the “fascistoid” Falange and its steadily diminishing role in the regime. In the spring of 1937 Franco had unified into a single movement the two parties that provided the main civilian support for the Nationalist cause: the Carlists, whose Navarrese troops were the elite corps of his army, suffering heavy casualties, and whose traditional Catholicism Franco respected, although he rejected their dynastic claims; and the Falangists, whose enthusiasm he exploited and whose political program gave military rebels a temporary clothing for their political nakedness, although its heady mixture of social radicalism and foreign totalitarianism made most generals uneasy. During Franco’s support of the Axis and while he still believed in the possibilities of a victorious new order in Europe, Falangism flourished; the early recruits were so numerous that the supply of blue shirts ran out. Indeed, if Hitler had won the war Franco would have presided over a regime as “fascist” as was compatible with his deeply ingrained respect for traditional Catholic values. After a war won by the Allies, all attempts to make Falangism a political reality, whether as a syndical organization or as the preponderant element in the political life of Spain, fizzled out.

Serrano Suñer, Franco’s brother-in-law and the best political brain in Nationalist Spain, wanted the Falange to have a prominent place in the new regime in whose planning he had been influential during 1937; in 1942 he was ditched. José Luis de Arrese, as secretary general of the movement, tamed its radicalism and domesticated it as a bureaucratic instrument of government. Too late, in 1956, he tried to re-establish its National Council as the centerpiece of the regime. Franco was aware that most of his military colleagues and his prelates detested the influence of the Falange; but he would not throw the Falangists out of the system, if only because they were a convenient counterbalance to the military monarchists. The Falange was too deeply encrusted in the regime to be drastically downgraded in order to please the generals and the bishops. As Franco himself remarked—for he was capable of disconcerting asides—at least the Falange was an effective “propaganda claque” that organized the crowds who applauded his speeches.



Payne has a striking chapter on the Civil War as a crusade in defense of Catholic civilization. It was this defense of Catholic values that Franco used to legitimize his rule. The enemies were the “three internationals”: Freemasonry, Communism, and liberalism, all engaged in a vast conspiracy to destroy Spain and its “permanent” values, its “essence.” The Caudillo’s obsession with Masonry remained to the end the most bizarre feature of his mental world, so much of which was filled by the commonplaces of nineteenth-century anti-liberalism. The enemies of Catholic Spain he had defeated in the Civil War; he ruled by right of conquest. During the heyday of “National Catholicism” in the 1940s and 1950s Spain became the most rigid confessional state in the West, experiencing an unprecedented religious revival. Professor Payne, I imagine, regards the statistics of priests’ vocations—one thousand per annum in the mid-1950s—as a more reliable guide to the nature and efficacy of this mission-inspired revivalism than the impressions of poets and novelists. Yet it is in works like Años de Penitencia by the poet Carlos Barral with its description of his “sordid” schooldays that one can sense the suffocating religiosity of National Catholicism.4

The conservative world of National Catholicism was not congenial to those Falangists who retained a belief in a “permanent revolution” that would combine a modern totalitarian, anticapitalist state with the glories of Spain’s imperial past. But most Falangists preferred employment to conviction, compromising on this as on everything else. The national movement invented a mishmash of Falangist imperialism and Catholic patriotism; its inflated rhetoric was one of the more unfortunate legacies of Francoism. The real conflict that undermined Francoism, as Professor Payne abundantly proves, was that between the secularism that came with the prosperity of the “years of development” in the 1960s and what Payne correctly calls “its neotraditionalist cultural and religious policies.” His chapter on the years 1959 to 1975 is called, significantly, “Developmentalism and Decay.”

It is something of a paradox that the boom of the 1960s and early 1970s was presided over by the Catholic technocrats of the Opus Dei movement who sought to combine lay piety and the ethics of the Harvard Business School. Autarchy and self-sufficiency, enforced by state interventionism, which were the economic ideals of the 1940s and 1950s, could be reconciled with an austere brand of Catholicism. Once autarchy was abandoned for quasi-liberal economic policies and entry into the world market such policies could be justified only by their success in promoting an affluent consumer society. Franco clearly saw the dangers of economic modernization; even the halfhearted economic liberalism of the Catholic technocrats might become the seedbed of political liberalism. But his advisers made it clear that the alternative to opening up the economy to market forces was national bankruptcy. The Caudillo was content to become the patron of the new prosperity that was presented as the consequence of “the peace of Franco.” The Spain of the 1960s became a safe haven for foreign investment—above all from the US.

Spain had long become a base for US military forces in southern Europe. Professor Payne traces the evolution of Franco’s foreign policy from sympathy with the Axis during the war to respectability as “the sentinel of the West” in the 1960s. He makes clear that it was not Franco’s vaunted “prudence” but Hitler’s rejection of Spain’s exorbitant “shopping list” as the price of participation that kept Spain out of the war. Once it was clear that Britain and the US could literally starve Spain by cutting off its essential food and fuel supplies, Franco’s sympathy with the Axis could not justify intervention. But this sympathy was enough to ostracize Francoist Spain as fascist in the democratic Europe of the victorious Allies.

The 1953 agreement giving the US its naval and air force bases in Spain in return for economic and military aid came in the same year as Franco’s concordat with the Vatican. They combined to establish Franco’s international respectability and in so doing did much to secure his rule at home. “Now at last I have won the Civil War,” Franco is said to have declared after signing the agreement with the US. To the opposition, and indeed to many Spaniards, the 1953 alliance and the strength it gave to Francoism constitutes the primal sin of the US; its memory still fuels the anti-Americanism that flared up in the prolonged domestic debate on Spain’s membership of NATO and surfaces again in the current attempt by Premier Gonzales to reduce the American military presence in Spain.

Ostracism did not suffice to topple Franco although it made the late 1940s the most difficult years of the regime. The Spanish political opposition blamed the refusal of the victorious Allies to actively support their efforts to oust the Caudillo as a sufficient cause of their failure. Yet it is quite clear that the British foreign secretary, Ernest Bevin, for example, however much he detested fascism, believed he could not adopt a course that would plunge Spain into another civil war in support of a divided opposition that provided little guarantee of success. Ideologically speaking it is not a glorious episode in British and US policy; but there was little practical alternative. With the cold war, the strategic advantages Spain offered smothered any residual sympathies with the opposition in the minds of US policy makers and British Conservatives.


Professor Payne is, no doubt, correct in stigmatizing as a mistaken enterprise the fashion for writing the history of Francoism as the history of the opposition to Francoism. A movement that did not succeed in its aims—the overthrow of the regime—does not deserve all that much attention, however noble its proponents.

Probably the opposition that most troubled Franco was that of the monarchists who, in the 1940s, pressed him to restore the monarchy in the person of Don Juan, son of the last king Alfonso XIII. Professor Payne’s treatment of Franco’s complex relations with Don Juan is detailed and convincing. In spite of occasional lapses and concessions to Franco, the pretender stood for a liberal constitutional monarchy that would reconcile the victors and the vanquished of the Civil War and make Spain an acceptable member of a democratic Europe. This was a program that Franco consistently rejected; he distrusted Don Juan’s aristocratic courtiers though he handled monarchist frondeurs with care. After all, they included his companions in arms, the generals who, in September 1936, had made him the absolute ruler of Spain. But as Professor Payne rightly observes, monarchism was a nonstarter simply because it had no widespread support in Spain.

The more serious opposition of workers, students, Basques, and Catalans Franco, I think, regarded as one would expect of the conscientious officer he was; political opposition was the equivalent of military mutiny and should be punished as such. It was not that he was a paranoiac or a cruel man; but he was a ruthless disciplinarian—for himself and for others—and his model of society was a military one.

In spite of its repeated failures the achievement of the opposition—from Christian Democrats to Communists—was that it challenged the regime’s claim to legitimacy. It exposed the intellectual poverty of the regime. Professor Payne would probably discount my view that the regime’s fundamental failure was its futile effort to turn everything from psychology to medieval history into a justification for Franco’s brand of anti-quated authoritarianism. As Juan Pablo Fusi points out in his recent book, the regime failed in its attempts to establish some sort of specious democratic legitimacy beyond and above liberalism.5 Its devices for this end included the semantic contortions of “Organic Democracy”; the use of the referendum; finally, the fruitless endeavors to turn “political association” within the framework of the Francoist cosmetic constitution into some sort of vehicle for “democratic” participation in public life.

But associations, however anodyne, however subject to the national movement, looked to Franco dangerously like political parties. His deepest political conviction was that his fellow countrymen were political imbeciles; to allow them parties, as liberal constitutionalism demanded, was to invite disaster. While he pronounced himself in favor of “a broad democratization of the political process” he did not regard parties “as a permanent necessity for the functioning of democracy.”

For Professor Payne it is not the opposition but the internal fissures of the regime that deserve detailed analysis. What he calls the “twilight of the regime” between 1969 and 1973 was dominated by an unresolved conflict between the reformists, who sought to “open” the regime in order to secure its—and their own—survival, and the inhabitants of the “bunker” whose “immobilism” sought to keep it as closed as possible. For to give in at any one point was to imperil the whole structure. It was as dangerous, Franco’s prime minister, General Carrero Blanco, remarked, as giving a drink to a confirmed alcoholic. An aging and invalid Franco could no longer exercise his accustomed control. He could intervene on occasion; in October 1974 he unceremoniously dismissed Pio Cabanillas, whose liberal press policies as minister of information had permitted a rash of pornography that offended Señora Franco’s Catholic sensibilities.

Impotent to solve the internal tensions between reformists and immobilists, challenged by an unprecedented wave of strikes and the terrorism of ETA in the Basque Provinces, the last government of Franco veered from promises of reform to lapses into repression. After the spectacular assassination in June 1973 by an ETA commando in Madrid of Prime Minister Carrero Blanco, Franco’s chosen instrument to conserve the institutions intact after his own death, the regime was in a permanent state of crisis. It had lost its sense of identity.

What had Franco stood for apart from his own perpetuation in power? In its early years the regime bandied about the word “totalitarian,” but Payne points out it was always a “fuzzy” concept. Franco defined as totalitarian the monarchy of Ferdinand and Isabella of the early sixteenth century; in spite of their determination to enforce religious unity with the Inquisition, their kingdom was hardly a totalitarian regime in the modern sense. Franco defined his own state as a Catholic traditional monarchy. Such a monarchy would be “installed,” not “restored”; for to restore the legitimate heir, Don Juan, would be to restore the system Franco regarded as responsible for the disaster of 1898 and the defeat of Spain at the hands of “Yankee sausage makers.” A liberal constitutional monarchy based on a competitive party system had sacrificed the interests of the patria to the factionalism and corruption of the politicians who manipulated it.

Franco, to the alarm of his supporters, delayed appointing a successor. This encouraged some Francoists to see in some sort of permanent regency the answer to the question, “After Franco what?” But in Don Juan’s son, the present king of Spain, Juan Carlos, Franco thought he had found an heir who would respect the principles of the movement and that, in his famous phrase, all would be “tied down, well tied down.” In the new monarchy the institutions of the Francoist dictatorship would survive the death of the dictator. Though he seems to have realized that Juan Carlos would not be able to rule as he himself ruled, Franco could not foresee that the heir he had selected in 1969 would, after his own death in 1975, use the institutions of Francoism as the legal instrument to destroy its political fabric. Payne rightly calls the political suicide of the Francoist elite a unique instance of the legal and peaceful conversion of an authoritarian system into a pluralist democracy.


Why did Francoism last as long as its creator’s life? There was always the prospect of death or prison for those who sought to overthrow it. Estimates vary wildly, but even on the conservative estimate of J. Salas Larrazábal, some thirty thousand Republican militants were executed after the Civil War; this sealed the distinction between the victors and the vanquished of the war and bound the victors to the regime by what has been called the “pact of blood.” Professor Payne holds that this bloodletting compares favorably with the record of other revolutionary and postrevolutionary regimes and emphasizes that the imprisonments and executions steadily diminished. But the threat was always there, administered by military courts. Hence the prominence of the Communists as the only serious opposition to Francoism. The Socialists, whose cadres in Spain were repeatedly broken up by repression, were forced into exile where they lost touch with Spanish realities. The Communists, accustomed to clandestinity, could operate in Spain itself and succeeded in penetrating and radicalizing the official trade unions, a policy of “entrism” which the Socialists rejected.

If the ultimate sanction of execution always existed, the glue that kept the regime in place was what Dionisio Ridruejo, the repentant Falangist poet, once characterized to me as “administrative coercion.” Everything from a driving license to a job depended on acceptance—at least in foro externo—of the regime. Those who live in democratic societies cannot understand the efficacy of this mechanism when it pervades a whole society. It takes a brave man to risk his prospects of promotion and the livelihood of his family for his convictions. Most ordinary citizens conform in order to survive; even university professors do not relish losing their chairs. In an authoritarian regime self-censorship becomes a conditioned reflex for weary intellectuals.

Clearly the economic avatars of the regime provided a basis of support that varied over time. In the “hungry years” of the Forties the struggle to survive was so intense that political activity was a luxury. Professor Payne provides the statistics of deprivation. I miss its gray atmosphere so well described in Francisco Umbral’s Memorias de un niño de Derechas (1972). This was the time of the black market, inevitable consequence of a regimented economy, of darned and second-hand clothes, of make do and mend. Coming after these bleak years the prosperity of the Sixties produced a generalized satisfaction. Spaniards had never had it so good. Only later did the contradictions between a secularized consumer society and the ideology of the regime merge to dog its declining years.

Not the least strength of the regime was the imperturbability of Franco himself—the “complacent dictator” as Payne calls him. As in all dictatorships, rumor becomes the stuff of political life. From the muted criticism of the regime by a minister, the rumor factory of Madrid fabricated tales of the regime in crisis. At times I felt—for example during a “crisis” provoked by the accidental shooting in Madrid of a Falangist in February 1956—that I was living in a surreal world.

The Caudillo never lost his nerve; his faith in his providential mission was never shaken by incidents that could fling even his supporters into a state of alarm. Professor Payne’s description of his private and public life is fair and illuminating. Austere in his private habits—he drank little, ate sparingly, and disliked smoking—secure in his family life, physically courageous (his stoicism during his final agony after three operations and seventy liters of blood transfusion was formidable), he remained unruffled during awkward moments. He turned a blind eye to the corruption of his ministers and dismissed them summarily without a word of thanks.

This calm is impressive; but it led him to underestimate the processes of erosion in the twilight of the regime. “A sclerotic bureaucracy, even a single personal despot,” Hugh Trevor-Roper has observed, “can prolong obsolete ideas beyond their natural term; but the change of generations must ultimately carry them away.”6 Of all the warning signs that which most perturbed Franco was the opposition of a new generation of Catholic priests. He found it incomprehensible. His ministers hoped by spending more on education than on the army to foster a generation of socially mobile achievers to man the new economy. Instead their educational reform threw up a generation of student radicals, incidentally bequeathing to democratic Spain the problem of reorganizing a vastly inflated, inefficient university system.

In the last years of the regime a freer press and reviews like the Christian Democrat Cuadernos para el Dialogo and Cambio 16 were a surrogate—imperfect and limited though they necessarily were—for free institutions. The extent of dissatisfaction seeped through to the admittedly limited urban reading public. Students and intellectuals, the Basques, the Catalans were now in open opposition. More important, as press reports of strikes revealed, sections of the working class were disenchanted. What had been the regime’s main offer to the workers—absolute security of employment (another of the awkward legacies of the regime to democracy) as a substitute for free unionism—was no longer sufficient to secure the acquiescence of a newly militant working class.

The Caudillo’s macabre death agony in November 1975 symbolized the contradictions of latter-day Francoist Spain: a modern, technological, secularized consumer society was still held officially in the carapace of what Payne describes as “a modernized version of traditional Spanish ideology,” based on Catholic values. Plugged into every device of modern technology, the dying dictator had the mummified arm of Saint Teresa at his bedside.

Professor Payne’s long book will remain the most substantial contribution to our understanding the political history of Francoist Spain. Its tone is gruff, its learning staggering—I calculate that one of his footnotes contains a month’s hard reading for lesser mortals. It impresses in its mastery of the now vast literature on the subject which grows day by day as Marxists reflect on the failure of the Communist opposition to Franco to transmute itself into a powerful radical left in the new democratic Spain; as repentant Francoists try to justify their past by presenting themselves as democrats before democracy. Indeed, to give them due credit, it was the program of the regime’s reformists that provided the tactics and its members the personnel for the installation of democracy from above. But they would not have moved so fast or so far without pressure from below, and that was mounted by the democratic opposition which had for so long fought the regime without succeeding in overthrowing it.

This Issue

February 4, 1988