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Angus Reed 13JNT

To what extent was Francos Spain a


fascist country?
Francos Spain lasted from July 1936 until December 1978 despite Franco having
died some three years prior. During the early stages of his regime some policies
were certainly influenced by his close Fascist friends Italy and Germany but what
is clear is that slowly Spain underwent a transition to greater modernisation and
liberalism, primarily through the economic and social liberalisation which took place,
as a consequence of Francos pragmatism. This meant that, whilst containing some
features of Fascism, Francos Spain cannot really be seen to have been a fascist
country.
First, the question should be asked as to what is Fascism? Fascism is
authoritarian, nationalistic, and has a single party or dictator in complete charge of
both governmental and social organisation. All these were characteristics of Francos
Spain and surely, therefore, considering its loose meaning, if Mussolinis Italy can be
classified as Fascist, so too should Francos regime. Indeed, ideology is often strongly
associated with Fascism yet less so with Franco, and this is used as an argument
against the Fascist label, however, there is equally little evidence to suggest
ideology was of much greater significance for Mussolini the original Fascist dictator.
In terms of his direction with the country, at least Francos early political and social
agendas were certainly tainted by Fascism. With his regime came a flourishing
personality cult (October 1936) and through the voluntary Youth Front (1940),
Falangists instilled political doctrine and occupied top positions in the Franco
propaganda machine, the press, radio, film, theatre, and orchestrated parades and
rallies affirming mass support for a fascist regime. Furthermore, as detailed by
Andrew Forrest, Franco allowed the Falangist Seccin Femenina to undertake the reeducation of women in their traditional roles (analogous to the Nazi Kinder, Kirche,
Kuche) and he banned divorce and contraception. More significantly, as with
Mussolinis Italy and the Third Reich, awards were given as incentive to produce
large families a clear indication of the re-establishment of nationalistic values.
The authoritarian, single-party state he set up paralleled Mussolinis
consolidation with personal freedoms severely circumscribed. The Press Law (April
1938), for example, enforced strict censorship and decreed that only registered
publications and journals were permitted to print. The dictatorial powers he wielded
only further his depiction as a Fascist having proclaimed himself Head of
Government, Head of State, and Commander-in-Chief and then passing the
August 1939 decree which gave him emergency powers under which he did not
need to consult his cabinet of ministers again paralleling developments made in
Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. Linking to Francos economics, the Labour Charter,
introduced by the Nationalists in March 1938, reflected Falangist (thus fascist) ideas
about guaranteeing the rights of the working class. The independent trade unions
which were banned and the syndicates of workers and employers set up reveals a
strong Italian influence over Francos early political developments. By late 1940,
national syndicates had been established in 10 economic sectors signifying explicit
economic developments associated with fascism.
In terms of his economics, Franco pushed for autarky launching a 10-Year Plan in
October 1939 paralleling other fascists ideas of the necessity to be self-sustaining
and removing the need to rely on inferior nations. Moreover, close ties to both
Germany and Italy pre-WWII such as with the signing of the Anti-Comintern Pact

Angus Reed 13JNT


(March 1939) and the meetings during October 1940 at Ribbentrop discussing
Spanish entrance into the war with Germany would imply parallelism in ideals and
values between the fascist leaders and Franco. Franco clearly approved Hitlers
invasion of the USSR in June 1941, viewing it as a crusade against Bolshevism and
consequently organised the sending of the Blue Division of 20,000 Spanish
volunteers who fought on the Eastern Front in 1942. Although autarky is almost
always a characteristic of fascism, when it was clear that the policy was detrimental
to Spains progress during the 1950s, the reversal in policy and restructuring based
around US loans during the Spanish Miracle 1959 which brought foreign investment
and introduced a free market, sent Francos Spain far from the fascist similarities it
once had, dramatically boosting her economy. Involvement of influential capitalist
economies and democratic powers created a bleeding effect whereby their
economic and political values begin to diffuse into the recipients culture
something which was not combatted by something which was not combatted by
Franco. The dramatic reversal in economic policy should be used as the groundwork
in the evidence against Francos Spain being fascist. What it reveals is more Francos
aspirations to maintain his Spain whilst situated at the top regardless of which
political doctrine he has to align himself.
Furthermore, Franco was not interested in ideology. The regime looked to the
Spain of the 16th century for its inspiration more than fascist Italy. As George Orwell
observed, his fight against the republicans was an attempt not so much to impose
fascism as to restore feudalism and his highly traditional outlook (visible through his
outdated WWI tactics during the early stages of the Civil War) meant he viewed his
role as leading a new Reconquest of Spain. Francos later political interventions
further this idea, especially in relation to the Falange. It should be noted that Franco
was a very different sort of man from Hitler of Mussolini. They were first and
foremost politicians, but he was pre-eminently a soldier. Incidentally, he was never a
member of a political party, and thus there was no true equivalent of the Nazis or
the Fascists in Spain. The Falange was the nearest Spain came to possessing a
fascist party yet it never played a major role in the new state. Most of the key
Falangist leaders did not survive the Civil War, and Franco effectively subordinated
the fascist party to his own personal dictatorship. Indeed, Franco even acted in
direct opposition to the Falange at times most notably in his vehement support of
the Church (and its strong influence educationally and judicially) which ran in direct
contrast to the Falangist anti-clerical outlook. Although Falange membership grew to
just under 1 million by 1942, its role in Francos Spain was limited to tasks such as
political indoctrination. It did have the youth organisation mentioned earlier, but
even with this powerful tool (proven by its Nazi and Italian Fascist equivalents), its
profile was much less prominent, with just 13% of boys aged 7-18 being members
and only 7% of girls. Importantly, in spite of the Fascist trimmings of the early years,
Francoism was not a totalitarian regime. Its original corporatist features modified
over time and it came to have none of the characteristics of a totalitarian state: no
single party parallel to the state administration and, after the early years, no
successful attempt at mass mobilisation.
As Roger Eatwell argues, to be truly fascist, the government would have to use
its power to strip the traditional elites of their power in order to assign a single basis
for society the glory of the nation. He claims Spain never attempted this and
therefore Francos Spain was never truly fascist. So overall, perhaps Franco himself
should best be called, incidentally, a Francoist. His main priorities were always the
consolidation of his own power: from his climb to Generalissimo during the Civil War,
to the consolidation of the fairly diverse nationalists under his own single-party, and,
later, the restoration of the monarchy without a monarch. His central ideology can
be described as a mix of Spanish nationalism and reactionary Catholicism. Whether

Angus Reed 13JNT


he maintained his Bismarckian appearance and utilitarianism for the more selfish
goal of his continued leadership, or truly for the benefit of what he perceived as a
successful regime, is unknown, but the two outcomes were certainly linked, and he
was successful in both.