Franco Bahamonde, Francisco

Franco Bahamonde, Francisco
b. 1892, El Ferrol (Galicia); d. 1975, Madrid
   Soldier and Head of State
   Franco's early military career was mainly associated with Spanish Morocco, where he acquired a reputation for personal bravery and stern discipline, and achieved rapid promotion, becoming in 1926 the youngest Brigadier in Europe. During the turbulent period of the Second Republic (1931–6), though instinctively conservative in his views, he refused to become involved in the attempted right-wing coup by General Sanjurjo, showing evidence, not so much of the professional soldier's loyalty to the legal government, as of the caution and pragmatism which he would later display during the Civil War and his years as Head of State.
   This caution made him hesitant about joining the military conspiracy of 1936, which led to the Civil War. As late as 12 July, six days before the military insurrection, Franco had still not committed himself. The murder by the police of a right-wing member of parliament, however, precipitated matters, and Franco assumed command of the Moroccan and southern wing of the movement, subsequently becoming overall General-ísimo of the rebel ("Nationalist") forces by September 1936. A dogged rather than brilliant strategist, he was determined that his troops would suffer no harassment in the rearguard, and, once he had secured a stretch of territory, he proceeded to eliminate potential enemies by systematic executions of Republicans. This policy of repression was also designed to ensure that when the war was won, there would be no significant political opposition to Franco's exercise of personal power. Executions of political dissidents continued on a large scale into the 1940s (and sporadically into the 1970s), and large numbers of Republicans were held in prison camps in the immediate post-war years. Catchall offences of "military rebellion" and "illegal propaganda" meant prison sentences for distribution of leaflets or possession of banned publications. Franco also created a legal framework which consolidated his personal dictatorship. Though the Succession Law of 1947 defined Spain as a kingdom, it confirmed Franco's de facto wartime position as Head of State, with the power to nominate his own royal successor. Though he had no intention of respect-ing the rights of the legitimate heir, Don Juan, Count of Barcelona, this law enabled Franco to retain the support of monarchists by holding out the hope of an eventual restoration.
   The other purpose of the Succession Law was to present a façade of respectability to the democratic world by fostering the notion that the current dictatorship was a transitional arrangement. Though Spain had been formally neutral during WWII, Franco's speeches, and the controlled press, gave overt sympathy and moral support to Germany and Italy. This resulted in Spain being ostracized by the Western Allies, and excluded from membership of the United Nations until 1955. With the growing tension of the Cold War, however, the US came to regard Franco as a reliable ally against Soviet expansionism, and in 1953 an agreement was concluded which permitted the Americans to establish bases in Spain (see also American bases agreement), in return for $226m in military and technical aid. This pursuit of international prestige and the flattering of military vanity were to be important elements of Franco's policy. The attempt to balance these goals produced some characteristic ambiguities. On the one hand, the idea of a crusade against godless communism was perpetuated as a national ideal. Furthermore, the unitary conception of Spain, dear to the armed forces and conservative interests generally, was fostered at the expense of the non-Castilian regions. Demands for recognition of cultural distinctiveness were treated as "separatism", and as an attack on the integrity of the "nation". Catalan books were publicly burned in Barcelona in 1939, and the more than two hundred periodical publications which had existed before the war were suppressed. Speakers of minority languages could be fined for conducting telephone conversations in their own tongue. As against this, the need for acceptance by the international community produced some token relaxation of restrictions, enabling the regime to disarm criticism to some extent. From the late 1940s on, the volume of publications in Catalan increased, though they were nearly always of minority interest. It remained extremely difficult to publish anything in Catalan which was likely to have a mass appeal; there was no Catalan radio or television, and no newspapers.
   The simplicity of Franco's political outlook was matched by a profound ignorance of economics. For several years, he continued to pursue a policy of autarky, which was adopted from sheer necessity after the Civil War, but which was subsequently turned into a Nationalistic creed of self-sufficiency. Moreover, despite his authoritarian personality, and his capacity for swift and vindictive action against individuals whom he considered a threat, Franco exercised little real oversight over the activities of his various ministers, with the result that there was no overall control of government spending. By 1956, rising inflation and an adverse balance of payments was threatening the economy with collapse. A cabinet reshuffle in February 1957 brought into the government the so-called technocrats, many of them members of the secretive Catholic organization Opus Dei. By 1959, they had elaborated a Stabilization Plan, which froze wages and opened Spain to foreign investment, resulting in rapid industrialization and expansion of the economy. In the 1960s, Spain's annual growth rate, at 7 percent, was the second highest in the capitalist world. There was little real attempt, however, to alter the distribution of wealth, property ownership, or the structure of society, and this decade witnessed a level of industrial and political unrest unequalled since the 1930s. The propaganda of the Franco regime presented him as a wise and firm leader, but in reality he was often passive and played a waiting game, in the hope that crises would be solved by time. His guiding principle was the determination to remain in power as long as possible, which often entailed playing one faction off against another, so as to neutralize any possible challenges to his own position. Thus the cabinet reshuffle of 1957 can be seen as an attempt to promote the technocrats so as to reduce the influence of the Falange, which, throughout the previous year, under its energetic and ambitious Minister Secretary-General, José Luis Arrese, had been striving to assert greater control over the government.
   Although Franco had been sympathetic to the plan to give greater prominence to the Falange, of which he was Jefe Nacional (National Leader), he was also conscious of the need to avoid alienating other political interests. Critics of the Franco regime often describe it excessively loosely as "fascist", a label which does not account for the complexities of the situation. If the description were accurate, it would give Franco credit for a more developed and coherent political ideology than he actually possessed, and for success in imposing it. The reality was that, at different times, he was subjected to different pressures from the various factions which supported his rule, pressures with which he coped by giving the impression that he was making meaningful concessions to the interest group concerned, while in fact he was reserving his freedom of manoeuvre. A large section of the political élite, including, significantly, most of the senior military officers who had supported his assumption of the role of Head of State during the Civil War, remained monarchist: Franco's curbing of the Falange in 1957 was due, as much as anything, to fear of a challenge from this lobby.
   The cabinet reshuffle of 1957 also marks the beginning of Franco's gradual withdrawal from direct involvement in government, though he never completely relinquished control. In the last fifteen years of his rule, the affairs of state were increasingly left to the relevant ministers, while Franco spent more and more time in his favourite occupations of shooting and fishing. This was due not only to advancing age, but also to the increased complexity of running a state which stood in need of rapid modernization, and required the kind of professional competence which the technocrats were well placed to provide. Franco's own naïve expectation that security of employment and firm policing would produce a docile and depoliticized populace was proved to be inadequate as early as 1951, when Barcelona witnessed a transport boycott, caused by an increase in fares, which quickly developed into a general strike. The increased prosperity of the 1960s did not filter down into the working class rapidly enough to prevent serious industrial unrest, prompted by an amalgam of specific demands for improvements in wages and working conditions, and political aspirations towards greater liberalization. The very success of the regime's economic policies, particularly in encouraging tourism, had created expectations of change which made the structures of Francoism seem obsolete even to some of its most loyal supporters. Franco, however, could only respond with harsher security measures, including the setting up of the Public Order Tribunal in 1963, specifically to deal with political offences. One of his last official acts, a month before his death, was to confirm death sentences passed by court martial on members of various terrorist organizations. Franco's reluctance to contemplate relinquishing power caused him to put off making arrangements for a successor, until advancing years and failing health made it inevitable. Moreover, his well-founded suspicion that the legitimate heir to the throne, Don Juan, would restore a liberal constitutional monarchy made him hesitate about using the provisions of the Law of Succession. In 1969, however, when he was 76, he agreed to a suggestion from his long-term ally, Admiral Luis Carrero Blanco, that Don Juan's son, Juan Carlos, should be formally nominated his successor as Head of State in the event of his death. The basic structure of the regime would, however, remain largely unaffected. Juan Carlos was made to swear allegiance to the Principles of the National Movement, and was, significantly, designated "Prince of Spain" rather than "Prince of Asturias", the title traditionally bestowed on the heir to the throne. Franco thereby wished to signal a break in continuity with the previous monarchy, a process which he compounded by using the term instaurar (to install) rather than restaurar (to restore). Franco's intention was that real political control would be exercised after his demise by Carrero Blanco, and he had, indeed, ceded more and more of the day-to-day running of the government to him, appointing him Vice-President of the Council of Ministers in 1967, and President in 1973. In December 1973, however, Carrero was assassinated by ETA. His successor, Carlos Arias Navarro, was a deeply conservative but indecisive civilian who was unlikely to influence Juan Carlos in the same way. Subsequent events were to prove, in any case, that Juan Carlos not only had a mind of his own, but was deeply committed to democratization, despite the training in the military ethos of the regime which, at Franco's insistence, he had received. This was only one of several respects in which Franco's efforts to perpetuate his regime were, ironically, frustrated by the very measures he had taken. The prosperity which he had hoped would depoliticize the populace only heightened aspirations for greater freedom. The oscillation between inward-looking nationalism and the desire for international recognition inevitably opened Spain to liberalizing influences, a process hastened by the need to increase foreign earnings through tourism. The ultimate enigma of Francoism, how such a mediocre person could survive in power for so long, is explicable in terms of his ability to manipulate the rivalries among the different factions in the political élites, and to play on the public's fear of a return to the chaos of the Civil War, and the hardship of the "years of hunger" of the early 1940s.
   Further reading
   - Ellwood, S. (1994) Franco, London and New York: Longman (an excellent, readable shorter study).
   - Fusi, J.P. (1985) Franco: Autoritarismo y poder personal, Madrid: Ediciones El País (a useful analysis by a leading Spanish contemporary historian).
   - Preston, P. (1993) Franco, London: Harper Collins (the standard and most comprehensive biography in English).

Encyclopedia of contemporary Spanish culture. 2013.

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