Labor Unions

I.

Do labor unions raise wages in the private sector? In order to answer this question, we must first ask what determines wage rates in the first place. Why is it that movie stars earn a ton of money, a college professor garners a middle class salary and the person who asks “Do you want fries with that?” takes home a more modest remuneration.

The answer in technical terms is discounted marginal revenue product. In verbiage more suitable for a family newspaper, it is: productivity. Why does the employer want to have the employee on his payroll? Simple; because in that way his revenue will increase. Suppose a person, call him Joe, can add to the bottom line of the firm at the rate of $20 per hour.

The company might initially offer him an hourly wage of $12, but this cannot long endure. At that rate a profit of $8 will be earned on Joe’s labor. Some other company will offer Joe $8.01, another $8.02, and a third $8.03. You see where we’re going with this.

Eventually his wage will end up exactly equal to his productivity, if we abstract from the costs of finding him, interviewing him, testing him, and other such transactions costs. Nor need the impetus arise only from the perspective of the hirer. Joe himself can look for other jobs, and his pay scale can also rise from that direction. Nor can his wage long remain above his productivity level. At $30, if there are enough Joes, and they are kept on the shop floor for long enough, bankruptcy will eventually ensue.

So, the question of whether labor unions can boost pay packets comes down to one of, do these organizations raise, lower or leave productivity levels unchanged. When put in this manner it is difficult to see how they can do anything other than lower productivity.

Even if they do not strike, their mere existence is costly. Organizing numbers of people so as to act together is not a free good. Then, when we add in all sorts of labor union activities such as slow downs, job reservations, intra-union squabbles, sign-up activities, elections, law suits, work to rule, collective bargaining, leaders’ salaries, beating up scabs, establishing picket lines, publicity, secondary strikes, boycotts, lobbying congress, etc. These may all strengthen unions, but they lower member productivity, and hence wages.

The point we are making is not that unions cannot raise the wages of all workers. It is, rather, that they cannot even boost their own pay, at least not in the long run. Yes, to be sure, it cannot be denied, that in the short run, based upon violence and the threat thereof, the pay scales of the rank and file can indeed rise.

But, if they exceed marginal revenue productivity, which has been decreasing thanks to their activities, their employers will be rendered bankrupt. It is no accident that Detroit is an economic basket case; these types of organizations were very powerful in the automobile industry. Nor should it occasion any surprise that the entire “rust belt” came into being as a result of unions catapulting compensation above productivity levels.

Unions comprised 33% of the labor force in 1955, and were down to single digits in the private sector by the 21st century. Wages rose markedly during that period. If organized labor were really responsible for this increase in worker well-being, it is more than passing curious it occurred during the time this institution was on the descendancy.

II.

Why are labor unions falling on such hard times (except in government employment)?

Union membership in the private sector was 6.2% in 2019, the lowest level since 1910. It is nowadays one fifth that of public sector workers, who have jumped to 33.6%. In 1954, the apex of organized labor, 34.8% of the private labor force were part of the rank and file.

Several hypotheses have been put forth to explain this radical reduction.

We are now much wealthier that we were in the 1950s. Unions are needed only for the poor, to help lift them up out of poverty. That is why MicroSoft, Apple, IBM and their ilk have not been organized; they don’t need this institution, since they already have high pay. But players in major league baseball, the NBA, the NFL, earn more than these high tech nerds, and they are unionized. There might be some explanatory power here, but maybe not all that much.

Here is another. Organized labor has been afflicted by corruption, mobster infiltration. The award winning movie, The Irishman, encapsulates this charge in dramatic fashion. But this has always been roughly true, all throughout labor union history. It is difficult, then, to see this as an accurate account for the rise and then fall of this institution.

Union leaders are invariably supporters of the Democratic party. Once upon a time that was also true of the vast majority of the membership. But it no longer holds. The rank and file in the age of Trump have to a significant degree embraced the Republican party. This might account, at least somewhat, for lessened support of the organized labor movement.

The government has to a significant degree taken over the role played by unions in the past: promoting healthcare, pensions, etc. To the extent this is true, it might well at least partially explain the lessened interest in unionism.

Then there is the fact that labor has in the last little while been allocated away from customary union strengths: manufacturing, construction. It has flowed in the direction of restaurants, hotels, computers, healthcare, which traditionally, and also at present, were and are not now heavily unionized. A not unreasonable explanation, albeit a partial one at best. For it leaves open the question as to why these other zones of the economy have been so resistant to the blandishments of unionism.

Here is yet another entry into this sweepstakes. Before the Supreme Court’s Janus decision, non union members were required to pay so-called “agency fees” to organized labor. Why? It was thought that their wage increases were due to union activity, and that they were thus “free riders” on the efforts of that organization.

But the Janus finding put paid to all of that. It cited the first amendment, claiming that the free speech rights of the so-called beneficiaries were being violated by compelling them to pay their hard earned money against their will to this group of people.

Indeed, the entire pre-Janus justification was dead from the neck up. First of all, wages are determined by productivity, not union threats. Second, even if A benefits from the acts of B does not justify B compelling A to pay him for them. I smile, take a shower once in a while, wear nice clothes, all of which (I claim), inure to your benefit. Yet if I sued you for these costs, I would be properly laughed out of court.

Several of these elucidations are at least partially correct, but none of them, even all together, can paint a complete picture. Here is another consideration to add to the mix. Wages are determined, ultimately, by labor productivity, and unions, with their strikes, work stoppages, internecine battles, downing tools in “sympathy” with their brethren, lower productivity compared to the level that would otherwise have obtained.

Unions are thus akin to a tapeworm, sucking the life out of an otherwise viable company. Detroit, anyone? Once upon the time this was a reasonably viable city. But the unions kept escalating their salary package demands, which choked off the profits of the automobile firms. Several of them headed south, and many of the others are now a shadow of their former selves.

The reason Lebron James earns a stupendous salary has nothing to do with unionism; ditto for your present author taking home more modest remuneration, nor for the guy who asks you “do you want fries with that,” at a still lower level. No, compensation is determined by how much each of us adds to the bottom line.

Wages are set by productivity levels, and unions lower, not raise them. This might be difficult to see, since many members of organized labor are paid generously. But that is despite union activity, not because of it. Without the “help” of this organization, their productivity would be higher, and so would their pay.

Walter E. Block is Harold E. Wirth Endowed Chair and Professor of Economics, College of Business, Loyola University New Orleans, and senior fellow at the Mises Institute. He earned his PhD in economics at Columbia University in 1972. He has taught at Rutgers, SUNY Stony Brook, Baruch CUNY, Holy Cross and the University of Central Arkansas. He is the author of more than 600 refereed articles in professional journals, two dozen books, and thousands of op eds (including the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and numerous others). He lectures widely on college campuses, delivers seminars around the world and appears regularly on television and radio shows. He is the Schlarbaum Laureate, Mises Institute, 2011; and has won the Loyola University Research Award (2005, 2008) and the Mises Institute’s Rothbard Medal of Freedom, 2005; and the Dux Academicus award, Loyola University, 2007. Prof. Block counts among his friends Ron Paul and Murray Rothbard. He was converted to libertarianism by Ayn Rand. Block is old enough to have played chess with Friedrich Hayek and once met Ludwig von Mises, and shook his hand. Block has never washed that hand since. So, if you shake his hand (it’s pretty dirty, but what the heck) you channel Mises.

The image shows, “Vote American Labor Party Roosevelt and Lehman,” a poster by the ALP for the Presidential Election, 1936.

Solidarity Forever! Solidarity Never! Labor History Through Song

When labor organizes, it sings. Music has been an integral part of the workers’ struggle since its early days in the Nineteenth Century. The history of organized labor through song is a long story. True to labor’s international ethos, ours is a tale which spans various nations, generations, and language communities. We have a massive corpus of material to sift through in order to take the pulse of the topic at hand. Indeed, making our task hairier still, labor’s is a story whose definite start is hard to ascertain and whose end is nowhere in sight.

In order to respect the essay format, we will strictly hold to some parameters. They are these: We will maintain a general chronological flow whilst using one main song, with some ancillary helpers, to illustrate a various work-related theme as we plod along. In doing so we will maintain both the narrative pace and topical diversity of our story. At the same time, we will ascertain common trends down through the years of struggle.

Further study recommends the 2019 texts by Steven Greenhouse, Beaten Down, Worked Up: The Past, Present, and Future of American Labor, and James Sullivan, Which Side Are You On? 20th Century American History in Protest Songs.

Timeliness

Workplace organizing is back in the news. From the “Fight for $15” movement in America, to France’s Yellow Vest unrest, to Singapore’s protesting bus drivers, the working man is on the march once more. Even monolithic WalMart and sacrosanct Google, implacable foes of unions, have lately felt the pressure of labor. And with the fallout of the late Coronavirus shutdowns, some American economists are predicting a shockingly high 30% unemployment rate.

With this labor revival – I blush with pride from my pedagogical perch – the vanguard has been led largely by teachers. My profession has been shamefully eager, historically, to cooperate with a wide variety of schemes ginned up by every backroom Yaleie and stockjobbing finance bro who toddles along.

Ranging from a mass phrenology photographic campaign in the last century, to loansharking three generations of 18-year-olds and counting, no debasement, no sellout, has been too humiliating for my once-sublime profession. But, moryah, Saul can be Paul as soon as anyone. Even in labor-hostile America, scholars are fast repairing their deserved infamy. Teachers have hit the picket lines from Wisconsin to West Virginia, and from New York to California these last few years.

To Sing

Men sing from passion, or at least they ought. They sing in war “by the rocket’s red glare,” and they sing for women with “their technicolor cheeks.” Overcome by urban steel, men sing in cities “where seven million are screaming for space,” and humbled by nature, men sing with “sunshine on [their] shoulders.” Men sing because they love, and because they care, and because they are alive.

Of course, the obverse is just as true. That Christians in the so-called First World sing of a Sunday with all the gusto of a late-’80s Soviet Party Congress is one of the ominous portents for Western spirituality.

History does not hesitate to support my melodic social observation. Men sing because they care, and they’ve been at it since day one. In the great Christological controversies of the 4th and 5th Centuries, all factions busied themselves between bouts of rioting in scribbling out hymnody. The same was certainly true during the Reformation; Protestants explored the vernacular and Catholics doubled-down on chant. And whilst Tories belted out God Save the King, Enlightenment republicans answered with God Save Great Thomas Paine. Trench-up, and Home Office-down, Axis and Allies vied with each other through two world wars to out-sing the foe, this time with the timely aid of radiophone and loudspeaker.

And so, with labor. It’s a struggle that has all the hope and frustration, all the tease and triumph, of love and war and God. Thus, labor is a cause to which songsters have just as soon thrown in their pens and talents and throats for.

Limitations and Failures

At this early hour in our essay, historical impartiality requires that I address a topic which perhaps has occurred to fair-minded readers: What about anti-labor songs? In a fact that is as damning as it is absolute, there actually is no corollary corpus of anti-union songs. Nothing at’ll, so far as I’ve been able to find. There are examples of states co-opting various musical styles for their ends, particularly rock in Europe and country music in America. But as far as organic specimens go, we search in vain.

Never, after an afternoon of beating the skulls of miners or longshoremen, did the police of William Martin Murphy or Allan Pinkerton strike up a chorus of celebration and steeled resolve. They were the baddies, after all. Much less have the spoilers of our day sung, those more recent bureaucrats who delivered the Traffic Controllers’ pink slips in 1981, or General Motors’ ones in 2009, or Ikeas’ today.

An Overview

As mentioned above, labor history is a vast subject. Our main selections in this essay and the topics they raise are as follows. We start with the Luddites of the Industrial Revolution. We witness the transformation of a historic loafing worker into a mythological reformer through songs like, The Triumph of General Ludd.

Then we look at the musical celebration of labor itself through Greenland Whale Fishery, Canadian Railroad Trilogy, and The Fireman’s Song. Next we have There Is Power In The Union, where we consider labor’s tensions with religion. In Banks of Marble we look at transatlantic connections between labor struggles on different continents. Which Side Are You On? gives us an insight into masculine archetypes in workers’ music. And in Solidarity Forever we dissect a fine specimen of hope, reinvention, and continuity in song. The Internationale and the Left’s decision – and ultimate split – in 1917 follows.

We then see the use of existing hymnody by the Catholic Worker Movement. In The Ballad of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire we feel the perennial anxiety of workplace safety, and the biting regret of warnings not heeded. Rounding out our time together and bringing our exploration up to the present day, we have David Rovics’ piece Living On the Streets of LA. It shines a light on the trials of atomized and indigent workers in the modern gig economy. In addition to these main pieces, about a dozen auxiliary works will illuminate our analysis.

From Marx to Uber, but with fall more soul and pizzazz than either Nineteenth Century theoreticians or Twenty-First Century apps conjure, we will sing our way through the basics of labor history.

General Ludd

Many moons before former DNC candidate Andrew Yang alerted us to the dangers of automation, workers were wary of their bosses’ late penchant for machines.

In the throes of the First Industrial Revolution some of Britain’s weavers began destroying the new mechanical looms which were occupying ever-more floor space. The contraptions were able year by year to do the specialized work which men developed over a lifetime. Playing out the future in their heads, the men of Nottingham reasoned that workingmen would soon or late be replaced altogether. These wary weavers formed loose associations of economically astute hooligans, and by 1812 they signed their corporate missives “Ned Ludd.”

The actual Ludd is said to have been a lazy or impassioned youth – the sources differ, though teens have been known to be both b’times – who, a generation before the Luddites arose, destroyed his father’s looms. Historians disagree, but he was probably grounded. The noun became an adjective, and England’s Luddites give us a fine jumping off point in our labor saga.

Folk memory is a slippery thing, and proverbially one man’s hero is another man’s villain. Like other far-sung foes of the Crown before him, like Robin Hood and Roddy McCorley, like Jamie MacPherson and Ned Kelly, the historicity of Ludd takes a backseat to common memory. How Ned Ludd morphed from a moody, loafing youth into an anti-automation hero is the stuff of another essay. What matters is that in peoples’ minds he did, and that those people decided to sing about it.

As early as 1850, Ludd was canonized by a street balladeer in The Triumph of General Ludd. Here he is imagined as a full-blown, doctrinaire revolutionary. We sing, “Let the wise and the great lend their aid and advice/ Nor e’er their assistance withdraw/ Till full-fashioned work at the old-fashioned price/ Is established by custom and law.” In a song that was given a studio recording by Chumbawamba (“I Get Knocked Down”) in the late 1980s, Triumph continues with Ned’s manifesto, “Then the trade when this arduous contest is o’er/ Shall raise in full splendor its head/ And colting and cutting and swearing no more/ Shall deprive all his workers of bread.”

Robert Calvert’s 1985 Ned Ludd says, “They said Ned Ludd was an idiot boy/ That all he could do was wreck and destroy/ And he turned to his workmates and said,” with Unabomber echoes, we note, “Death to Machines!/ They tread on our future and they stamp on our dreams.”

Continuing the common memory of Ludd in Britain, General Ludd from the UK band Seize the Day says, “Cause ‘en if we don’t break ’em [i.e., machines], our lives they will take ’em/ Our croft, our cottage, our village as well/ No freedom or laughter for those who come after/ But a servant and master in a factory hell.” Giving a full-blown first-person narrative, the song goes on, “So the door was kicked in, and the frames were all broken/ And the owner was woken and raised the alarm/ And the yeomen came riding, but we were in hiding/ The people providing, to keep us from harm.”

Steeleye Span deserves many honorable mentions for their innovative career, not the least for making a 16-minute epic on everybody’s favorite frame-breakers.

Celebration

A little later on I will address the Church’s musical consideration labor in the May 1st commemoration of St. Joseph the Worker. As Joseph Piper reminds us in his fine essay on leisure, all liturgy is celebratory. Thus, we can say labor is sublimated and celebrated in the Church’s ceremonies. However, grace builds on nature, and there is in labor folk a more basic element of rejoicing which we now turn to.

In work’s daily trials, and flow, and mundane happenings, men have sung. The Creamery Song, Greenland Whale Fishery, Canadian Railroad Trilogy, and the Fireman’s Song are our examples.

In The Creamery Song our familiar morning routines are considered. It says, “Paddy Stokes was the first in at daybreak/ The boiler to stoke and ignite/ There was plenty of steam, the machinery sang/ A day’s work in the dairy began.” But mornings are deadly for distraction, and many an idle minute’s been spent on another cigarette or another cup of coffee. “Then the farmer arrived in his pony and car/ And while waiting they’d have an aul spar/ They’d talk of the games and the state of the land/ Then they’d swing the tanks up on the stand.”

All the energy and physicality of industrialization is captured by Gordon Lightfoot in Canadian Railroad Trilogy. It says, “Look away, said they, across this mighty land/ From the eastern shore to the western strand/ Bring in the workers and bring up the rails/ We gotta lay down the tracks and tear up the trails/ Open ‘er heart let the life blood flow/ Gotta get on our way ’cause we’re movin’ too slow!”

A particular type of man all of us have likely worked for is comically memorialized in Greenland Whale Fishery. The whalers deploy in the verse, “The harpoon struck and the line paid out/ With a single flourish of her tail/ She capsized our boat and we lost five men/ And we did not catch that whale, brave boys.” Tragedy has struck, yes, but it’s not where you might think. The song goes on, “The losin’ of those five jolly men/ It grieved our captain sore/ But the losin’ of that sperm whale fish/ Now it grieved him ten times more, brave boys/ Now it grieved him ten times more.”

Not to rag too heavy on on bosses, but in Ian Campbell’s Fireman’s Song the coal stoker-narrator good-naturedly notes, “The driver sits there like a god/ A decent mate but an idle sod/ Though I’ll be shovelling on me knees/ Still he’ll sit there at his ease.” But no matter. This job has given me physical fitness and dexterity, if nothing else. “The pick and shovel are tools of me trade/ And two strong arms to swing the blade/ Hands with palms as hard as leather/ And nimble feet as light as a feather.”

Going forward, it is important to remember that the element which gives labor organizing its artistic energy is because labor itself is worth celebrating.

Wobblies

No treatment of workers’ history, much less labor music, is complete sans mention of the I.W.W. Their motto was their philosophy. “One big union,” they said, and they meant it. Well did these “Wobblies,” as I.W.W. members were called in the slang of the time, know how to fight fire with fire.

The International Workers of the World was formed in 1905. What differentiated it from contemporary movements like the Knights of Labor or the American Federation of Labor was its belief in a united working class, not one segmented by trade. The dynamic of wage-earners organized across professions would allow for “sympathetic strikes.”

With this tool, if a lone factory went on strike, nearby sympathetic strikes could magnify its power. Should management hire scabs to replace the factory workers, for example, sympathetic action called for other sectors to make that bosses’ life hell.

A sympathetic strike would oblige the truckers which supplied the original factory, the operators of the power plant which kept the factory’s lights on, the groundskeepers who plowed the snow and cleaned the gutters, and so forth and so on, to join the factory hands and bring, not just one location, but potentially an entire town, city, or region, to a standstill.

A couple of years ago I greatly expanded The Ballad of James Larkin. Originally written by Donagh McDonald, son of the poet and 1916 signatory Thomas MacDonagh (“I See His Blood Upon the Rose”), the ‘60s Ballad beat contemporary historians to the punch in linking the Great Dublin Lockout of 1913 to the Easter Rising of 1916.

As regards a sympathetic strike, my expansion goes, “Then Larkin left us, he’d gone to England/ A Fiery Cross for some sympathy/ From Southampton and from London/ Labor joined hands across the sea.” Presaging the chronic weakness of 20th Century labor leadership, the stanza continues, “But union bosses were worse than useless/ And there’d be no general strike/ With ‘friends’ like this, you’d not need foemen/ Dublin’s heroes pushed on alone.”

Joe Hill and Religious Tunes

Joe Hill, originally an immigrant from Sweden, and himself the subject of no shortage of musical memorials in the wake of his famed (and framed) execution in Utah in 1915, was especially adept at co-opting religious hymns for organizing purposes. During Hill’s I.W.W. junkets through the American West, local capitalists routinely hired Salvation Army bands to play music over the speeches of Wobbly organizers like Joe Hill. There was no electronic amplification in those days, none within the budget of traveling Wobblies, at least. The appearance of a brass band playing There Is Power in the Blood or Onward, Christian Soldiers would be enough to put the kibosh on the most earnest speechifying.

Making lemonade of his lemons, Hill set his prolific compositions to tunes commonly used by churches. We recall that religious observance was much higher a century ago, and thus many tunes were generally known by the public. One example of Hill’s use of a religious anthem is The Preacher and The Slave. It employs the tune of In The Sweet By-And-By, and the song directly aims its barbs at the General Booth’s “Sally Army” interrupters. Hill’s song croons, “The Starvation [sic] Army, they play/ And they sing and they clap and they pray/ ‘Til they get all your coin on the drum/ Then they tell you that you’re on the bum.” Preacher is also notable for containing Hill’s famous expression, “Pie in the sky.” Like the memory of Hill himself, the expression would live on long after its initial appearance.

“Pie in the sky,” wasn’t a baseless phrase. Besides some papal encyclicals and the efforts of the Catholic Worker Movement, popular and institutional Christianity was silent on the labor topic. Any Protestant who brought up organizing a century past was also likely to be as soon fuzzy on doctrine, and thus suspect by the pious.

Culpable of guilt by association, observant upper- and middle-class Catholics joined Protestants in an ecumenical wariness of labor issues. However, the majority of American Catholics were poor, and their support of unions brought them into regular conflict with religious leaders.

As for the Orthodox response to the labor topic, of course there were not enough of them in the West to generate a conversation in that quarter. And indeed, set upon by Modernity far more abruptly than the Western Church, Eastern Christians still are nowhere nearer in 2020 to forming a labor theology than they were in Hill’s day.

Another example of the co-opting of pious tunes for labor purposes is Because All Men Are Brothers. With lyrics which would surely startle Johann Sebastian Bach, who notably used the setting for his St. Matthew’s Passion, labor’s rewriting states, “Let every voice be thunder, let every heart beat strong/ Until all tyrants perish our work shall not be done/ Let not our memories fail us, the lost years shall be found/ Let slavery’s chains be broken the whole wide world around.”

Also, from the prolific pen of Joe Hill is the 1913 piece There Is Power In The Union. Ripped from the formerly pious background of its original setting, There Is Power defiantly barks, “If you like sluggers to beat off your head/ Then don’t organize, and unions despise/ If you want nothing before you are dead/ Shake hands with your boss and look wise.”

Occasionally immigrants embody the ethos of a country better than natives. If Europe took our Henry James a century past, they at least had the good manners to trade their talented Joe Hill.

The Gospel of Christ Meets the Gospel of Labor

In juxtaposition to the antipathy or hostility towards labor from bourgeois Christians, the Catholic Worker Movement sought to bridge the gap between secular labor and the Christian tradition. Their Catholic spiritual tradition was an old hand in the ideological use of music.

Founded by Peter Maurin and Dorothy Day in 1933, the CWM sought to make the Church a dynamic social force once again. On the back foot since the French Revolution, it was time to be proactive. As Dan McKannan writes in a contemporary Movement publication, “The Catholic Worker [community] is the place in which the American Catholic Church as a whole meets the American Left as a whole.”

Towards that end, I’ve stumbled across a contemporary mini-retreat inspired by Dorothy Day’s life which is suggested by the Movement. The recollection concludes with I Bind My Heart This Tide, a hymn from the turn of the last century. It contains these verses, “I bind my soul this day/ To the neighbor far away/ And the stranger near at hand/ In this town, and in this land.” With a distinct flavor of St. Patrick’s Lorica, it continues, “I bind my heart in thrall/ To the God, the Lord of all/ To God, the poor one’s friend/ And the Christ whom he did send.” It’s a fitting hymn for a day dedicated to the spirituality of one such as Day, herself an Oblate of St. Benedict and those religious’ commitment to “ora et labora.”

The response of the pious from the 19th Century through the foundation of the Catholic Worker Movement gave fuel to the secular Left’s claim that religion was in the keep of the ruling class. As Karl Marx and Frederick Engles succinctly wrote in the 1848 Communist Manifesto, “Communism abolishes all religion.” However, the plucky Catholic Worker Movement had enough sense to snatch the brand from the fire. Seeing labor quickly spinning off into the worldly, secular arena, they used songs too.

Unlike the I.W.W., the CWM tended to use existing Christian hymns to express their social gospel, a message which saw the Corporal and Spiritual Works as concrete marching orders as adamantine as Marx’s Ten Planks. Much like the inclusion of the Memorial feast of St. Joseph the Worker, the CWM uses existing hymns to sanctify the daily concerns of working men with religious iconography. For their efforts Catholics today still grouse about Dorothey Day being a “communist.” No good deed goes unpunished.

Liturgical Music

Much in the vein of the CWM, the institutional Church appointed May 1st the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker in 1955. It was a commemoration which had been knocking around since the 19th Century under different titles and ranks. That St. Joseph kept a second liturgical day on the Postconcilior calendar, when many saints lost the one they had, is a testimony to the gravity of the labor issue on the mind of the Church.

On both Joseph’s March 19th major celebration, when his historic and celestial assistance is remembered, and his minor honor on May 1st, when his silent laborings are recalled, the hymn Te Ioseph Celebrant is sung at Vespers. We mightn’t associate Latin liturgical hymnody with folk music, but really it is. It is no harder to sing than any folk piece, and a damn sight easier than many contemporary songs in those horrid missalettes.

When churchmen cease dumbing down the liturgical life of the faithful, once again the Volk can sing the decidedly folk piece Te Ioseph Celebrant. It honors the spiritual ends of labor with the stanza, “Death brings to other saints their rest/ Through toil they win the victor’s place/ Thou happier, like the Angels blest/ Alive, hast seen God face to face.”

John Coleman co-hosts Christian History & Ideas, and is the founder of Apocatastasis: An Institute for the Humanities, an alternative college and high school in New Milford, Connecticut (USA). Apocatastasis is a school focused on studying the Western humanities in an integrated fashion, while at the same time adjusting to the changing educational field. Information about the college can be found at their website.

The image shows, “Protectors of our Industries,” an illustration from Puck Magazine, February, 1883.

Miguel de Unamuno vs. Alejandro Amenábar

After two box office successes, The Sea Inside and The Others, followed by two commercial failures, Agora and Regression, and a series of advertising films, notably for La Loteria Nacional, the Spanish director of Chilean origin, Alejandro Amenábar, returns in cinematographic news with a feature film about the start of the Spanish Civil War. While at War (in French release, Letter to Franco), is a film well put together and remarkably well-served by the performance of the main actor, Karra Elejalde, but whose crippling defect is to claim to be based on works of serious historians when it is pure fiction.

Centered on the figure of Miguel de Unamuno (1864-1936), an illustrious Basque-Spanish philosopher, linguist, poet and playwright of the Generation of 98, whom some consider to be the most significant Spanish intellectual of the turn of the 20th century, the film strives to show that the rector of the University of Salamanca was unable to understand the military coup of July 18, 1936 correctly, that he lacked foresight, and that he did not understand the real intentions of the insurgents.

According to Amenábar, Unamuno was saved in extremis for posterity, thanks to his late realization and then enormous courage during the critical speech against the national camp given at the Paraninfo (large amphitheater) of the University of Salamanca, in front of Brigadier-General Millán-Astray, the famed founder of the Spanish Foreign Legion, a war cripple (one-eyed, one-armed and lame), and a luminary among university and military officials.

The incident occurred on October 12, 1936, Columbus Day, or Día de la Raza (a day marking “Hispanity”), a holiday that commemorates the discovery of America and the birth of the new cultural identity born from the fusion of indigenous peoples of the New World and peoples of Spain. Miguel de Unamuno was, it should be remembered, the first author to suggest using the word “Hispanity” (Hispanitatem) in an article entitled, “Sobre la argentinidad,” published by La Nación de Buenos Aires, March 11, 1910.

The highlight of the film is obviously the mythical version of the incident when the philosopher and the general met. Amenábar largely, if not almost exclusively, bases his view on the Biography of Miguel de Unamuno that the French Hispanists, Colette and Jean-Claude Rabaté, published in 2009 at Taurus (a publishing house which is part of the Santillana Group, itself close to the newspaper El País, one of the most loyal supporters of the PSOE governments).

From their account of Unamuno’s speech, Amenábar retains, adds or moves a few sentences, no doubt in the name of artistic freedom. According to the two French Hispanists on whose work the film is based, Unamuno declared on this occasion: “We talked about international war in defense of Western Christian civilization; a civilization that I have defended myself on many occasions. But today it is only an ‘uncivil’ war … (between the supporters of fascism and bolshevism, Amenábar here adds).”

Directly referring to the words of one of the speakers, the professor of literature, Francisco Maldonado, Unamuno also said: “I take it personally when it is assumed that the explosion against the Basque and Catalans qualifies as anti -Spain; with such reasoning they could also say the same thing about us… Spain is nothing more than a madhouse.”

Foaming with rage, in particular after Unamuno’s allusion to the Filipino national hero, José Rizal, against whom General Millán-Astray had fought in his youth, the founder of the Spanish Legion (Tercio de Extranjeros) got up, shouting “Long live death! Death to intellectuals!”

And, ever-unflappable, the old philosopher replied at once: “Here, it is the temple of intelligence and I am its high priest. You desecrate this sacred place. You may win because you have the necessary brute force, but you will not win. To convince, you have to persuade, and to persuade you need something you don’t have for the fight: reason and being right… I have said what I came to say!”

This admirable and courageous speech in the film, however, is pure literary invention. Obviously, Amenábar did not bother to read a small footnote included in the book by Rabatés, which says the following: “There is no written or engraved record of this famous exchange. We took the liberty of reconstructing Unamuno’s possible speech from notes scribbled by him.”

The primary source is about thirty words feverishly penciled by the philosopher on the back of an envelope: “international war; western Christian civilization, independence, overcoming and convincing, hatred and compassion, Rice Rizal, concave and convex, struggle, unity, Catalans and Basques, language imperialism, hate intelligence which is critical, which is examination and differentiation, investigative curiosity and not being inquisitive.”

If Amenábar had been more rigorous and better informed, he would have compared the mythical version with the most balanced testimonies of the academic personalities then present. There could also have been a warning before the credits. The personalities present in the audience, such as the writer, José Maria Pemán; the deputy of the Republic, future Minister of Education of Franco, Pedro Sainz Rodríguez; the jurist and political theorist, Eugenio Vegas Latapié; the psychiatrist, José Pérez-López Villamil; and the vice-rector, Esteban Madruga, along with the writers, journalists and historians, well-known throughout Spain, such as, Emilio Salcedo, Ximenéz de Sandoval, Víctor Ruiz de Albéniz, Alfonso Lazo, Luis E. Togores and Guillermo Rocafort, to name a few. All of them stressed the fallacious character of the remarks put in the mouth of Unamuno.

But it is even more regrettable that Amenábar did not deem it useful to refer to the final works of the librarian of the University of Salamanca, Severiano Delgado Cruz, published in 2019, under the title, Arqueología de un mito: el acto del 12 October in el paraninfo de la Universidad de Salamanca. And all the more so since the main Spanish media (including the newspapers ABC and El País in their editions of May 7-8 and May 27, 2018) have largely echoed the filmmaker.

At the end of a long and patient research, Severiano Delgado Cruz was able to clearly affirm that Millán-Astray never said, “Death to the intellectuals” – but rather, “Muera la intelectualidad traidora” (Death to traitorous intellectualism) and that Miguel de Unamuno, who focused his brief speech on compassion, did not answer him in such an indignant and haughty tone.

It was, according to Delgado, a mundane exchange, followed by the usual uproar that accompanied speeches of the 1930s during which people were easily fired up. There was no solemn retort or arms brandished to threaten the rector. “The meeting was dissolved in the midst of shouts and bluster.” Nor were there “the cries of harsh severity” of Francoism, such as, “Arriba España,” (“Spain over all”), “España, grande” (Greater Spain), and “España, libre” (Free Spain). Millán-Astray asked the old professor to go out on Madame Franco’s arm (and not by taking her hand as in the film).

The philosopher and Carmen Polo Franco, accompanied by Mgr Pla y Deniel, Bishop of Salamanca, and three soldiers from the general’s personal guard, then headed for the door. Before getting into the official car, in which Madame Franco was already seated, Unamuno shook hands with Millán-Astray and the two men took leave of one another. (A photo published in El Adelanto de Salamanca dated of October 13, 1936 attests to this fact).

It also appears that Unamuno did not attach any particular importance to this incident because he did not change his routine. As usual, after his meal, he went to the “Casino” for coffee. And it was then that members and adherents of this cultural club – civilians and not soldiers – insulted and booed him.

The legend of the “Paraninfo Incident” came into being, as Delgado demonstrates, in 1941, when Luis Portillo wrote a fictional narrative entitled, “Unamuno’s Last Lecture,” for the London magazine, Horizons. This young teacher from Salamanca, who was employed by the BBC, had worked in Valencia on behalf of the Information Office of the Government of the Spanish Republic.

In his literary recreation, Portillo voluntarily emphasized Millán-Astray’s brutality towards Unamuno, extolling the dignified and courageous attitude of the intellectual, who dared to oppose the infamous military leader. But the myth did not really take hold until later, when Portillo’s account was taken up, uncritically, by historian, Hugh Thomas, in his world-famous book, The Spanish Civil War / La guerre de Espagne (1961).

Unamuno’s enormous international prestige protected him from any repressive or coercive measures. But the brief quarrel was not without consequences. The Municipal Corporation of Salamanca met the same day to propose that his duties as a municipal councillor be terminated. On October 16, the Governing Council of the University of Salamanca asked for his dismissal from the rectorate. General Franco announced his dismissal on October 22.

Ironically, Unamuno had also been successively dismissed from the vice-rectorate for antimonarchism and insults to the king in 1924, then appointed rector by the Republic, then dismissed again by the Popular Front government for joining the national uprising (this was the purge of university professors ordered by the decree of 23 August 1936 by Manuel Azaña) – and then finally he was quickly reappointed by the National Defense Committee, but again dismissed on October 16.

The institutional vacuum having been created around him, Unamuno, whose precarious health became increasingly shaky, then lived on as a recluse, until his death on December 31, 1936, at the age of 72.

At the end of the film, Amenábar suggests that after his acquiescence, even his “redemption,” the old philosopher at last and finally distanced himself from the National Movement, fiercely criticizing the actions of the military and their right-wing civilian supporters. But Amenábar’s expeditious conclusion has nothing to do with historical truth.

The initial enthusiasm of Unamuno for the insurgent camp clearly cooled in the light of information that reached him about the repression exerted in the rear-guard, which was ultimately quite similar to that which occurred in the camp of the Popular Front. Especially since close friends, like Casto Prieto, Republican mayor of Salamanca; José Manso, Socialist deputy; or Atilano Coco, Protestant pastor and mason, had been victims.

But that said, with a spirit that was free, independent, stubborn, rebellious, fond of justice and reason, eager to reconcile progress with the best of tradition, Unamuno continued to oppose, head-on, the government of the Popular Front (and not to the Republic). He criticized very severely the extrajudicial executions of the two camps, the curse of los (h)unos y los (h)otros (the Huns and the [H]others, i.e., both sides), the lack of compassion of the parties of the Right.

But, contrary to what Amenábar suggests, Unamuno supported, justified and legitimized the National uprising until his death. His interviews, letters and other documents after October 12, 1936 leave no room for doubt (see in particular the interviews with Jérôme Tharaud and Katzantzakis on October 20 and 21; then with Norenzo Giusso, on November 21; the letter to his translator, Maria Garelli, on November 21; the interview with Armando Boaventura at the end of December; or, the last lines of El resentimiento tragíco de la vida (the Tragic Bitterness of Life), written three days before his death, which are notes that should not be confused with his famous book, Tragic Sense of Life).

The press favorable to the Popular Front poured out torrents of insults against Unamuno. He was for them the “mad, bilious, cynical, inhuman, mean, impostor, and great traitor,” and even, the “spiritual inspirer of fascism.” The question was nevertheless perfectly clear to the old rector – it was “a struggle between civilization and anarchy… not a war between liberalism and fascism, but between Christian civilization and anarchy. What has to be saved in Spain is Western Christian civilization and national independence.”

Shortly before dying, he described “the red hordes” as “pathological phenomena, criminals and former criminals,” as “ferocious beasts,” who conspired “the barbarity of the Popular Front.” He said, “Franco is a good man and a great general.” He prophesied, “internal or external exile which awaited many intelligent and pure-hearted Spaniards.” And he admitted “his discouragement… I am disgusted with being a man.”

He went on to explain: “In this critical moment of suffering in Spain, I know that I must follow the soldiers. They are the only ones who will bring us order… I have not turned into a Rightist. Pay no attention to what is said. I have not betrayed the cause of freedom. But for the moment, it is absolutely essential that order be restored. After that, I can quickly rise up and get back into the fight for freedom. No, no, I am neither fascist nor Bolshevik. I am a loner.”

There are so many other errors or untruths in While at War, which deserve to be corrected. Here are some of the more egregious:

  1. The red and gold flag of the Spanish monarchy is associated with “fascism,” while the red, yellow and purple flag of the Republic is associated with “democracy.” In reality, in Salamanca, as in most regions of Spain, the insurgents left the barracks waving the tricolor of the Republic (except in Pamplona and Vitoria). The red and yellow flag became the official flag of the National zone only later, under decisive pressure from monarchical, Carlist and Alphonsine circles, and by decree of the National Defense Council of August 29, 1936.
  2. At the start of the film, an officer declares a state of war “with the help of God” which is quite incredible. In the National camp, the combat did not initially have its religious character of a crusade. That only happened after the failed military coup, when civilians mobilized on both sides, and transformed the into a civil war.
  3. Millán-Astray praises a Franco who is supposed to have had the luck to dodge all bullets during the African campaign. That is just ridiculous and grossly ignorant. Franco was seriously injured in the abdomen during a bayonet charge in June 1916. He was picked up from the ground and saved by a Moroccan soldier from corps of “regulars;” and for several days, his death was considered almost certain by his comrades in arms. Astray, who was a hothead and a fanatical patriot, was probably not as uneducated as they say. He wrote the prologue to the Spanish edition of Inazo Nitobé’s Bushido and collected most of the essential samurai precepts to write a code of the legionnaires.
  4. It is not clear if Unamuno gave 5,000 pesetas to finance the coup. The question is not clear.
  5. At Paraninfo, Unamuno was not seated at the far right of the conference table but in the center because he presided over the gathering as rector with Madame Franco and the Catalan bishop on his right and Pla y Deniel to his left.
  6. It was not the daughters of Unamuno who were present in the large amphitheater but his son, Rafael.
  7. The ambiguity of the connection between the Falangists and Unamuno is completely overlooked. The Falangists, rightly or wrongly, believed that the regenerationist theses of Unamuno were close to their own ideas. But the film prefers to emphasize the confrontations between members of the Falange and Unamuno, rather than to show the subtle connections that existed between them. Unamuno severely criticized the “fascism” of the National Trade Unionists or Falangistas and their repressive actions during the Spanish Civil War. Nevertheless, he always held in high esteem the head and founder of the Falange, José Antonio Primo de Rivera, who was then incarcerated in Alicante (whom he called “a privileged brain; may be the most promising in contemporary Europe,” in a letter to Lisandro de la Torre, August 1936). On February 10, 1935, Unamuno even received José Antonio at his home and went with him to that celebrated Falangist meeting held the same day in Salamanca. Some authors are also of the opinion that the controversies raised by this assistance caused him to be deprived of the Nobel Prize for literature the following year. On December 31, 1936, a young Falangist, Bartolomé Aragon, while visiting the old master, received his last words, his last sigh and who then informed the family of his death. It was also a Falangist intellectual, Victor de la Serna, who organized the funeral vigil at the University’s Paraninfo (because, despite his dismissal, Unamuno was considered by them to have died in the exercise of his office). Finally, during the burial, the coffin was carried by four Falangists.

I understand that these facts are embarrassing for the image of the philosopher that Amenábar wants to give. The filmmaker is convinced that the Spanish Civil War can be reduced to the Democrats’ struggle against fascism, to the people’s struggle against the army, the church and the bank – an interpretation which, after all, is not very different from that of the Komintern of the 1930s. Everyone is of course free to have their opinions.

But was the Spanish Popular Front really democratic? Therein lies the heart of the problem. In truth, in Spain in 1936, no one believed in liberal democracy. And certainly not the Lefts. The revolutionary myth, which was shared by the entire Left, was that of the armed struggle. Liberal democracy was seen by the Bolshevized Socialist Party (whose leader, Largo Caballero, was the “Spanish Lenin” for the socialist youth), by the Communist Party and by the Anarchists, only as a means to achieve their ends – “popular democracy,” or the socialist state. The liberal-Jacobin Left, secularist, dogmatic and sectarian, dominated by the personality of Manuel Azaña, had engaged in the Socialist uprising of October 1934 (against the government of the radical Alejandro Lerroux, whose moderate party was supported by the a large number of Freemasons) – and it did not believe in democracy either.

It is not surprising therefore that the most prestigious Spanish intellectuals of the time, liberals and democrats, such as, Gregorio Marañon, José Ortega y Gasset and Ramón Pérez de Ayala, the “founding fathers of the Republic,” who had founded, in 1931, the “Agrupación al servicio de la República” (a group of intellectuals who defended the Republic), rallied, like Unamuno, to the cause of the National camp.

In conclusion, being a supporter of a politically correct globalism, representative of a technically successful cinema but always more predictable and more conformist, Amenábar declared, during the presentation of his film, that he also wanted to refer to the present and call the attention of the viewers to the dangers of the resurgence of extremism, fascism and populism.

I bet that Miguel de Unamuno, both Basque and Spanish, a Christian philosopher, a liberal, democrat and a man with a big heart, would have called for more measure, nuance, rationality and mutual respect. He could thus have given Amenábar a few lines from his Tragic Sense of Life: “Every individual in a people who conspires to break the spiritual unity and continuity of that people tends to destroy it and to destroy himself as a part of that people… for me the becoming other than I am, the breaking of the unity and continuity of my life, is to cease to be he who I am—that is to say, it is simply to cease to be. And that—no! Anything rather than that!”

Arnaud Imatz, a Basque-French political scientist and historian, holds a State Doctorate (DrE) in political science and is a correspondent-member of the Royal Academy of History (Spain), and a former international civil servant at OECD. He is a specialist in the Spanish Civil War, European populism, and the political struggles of the Right and the Left – all subjects on which he has written several books. He has also published numerous articles on the political thought of the founder and theoretician of the Falange, José Antonio Primo de Rivera, as well as the Liberal philosopher, José Ortega y Gasset, and the Catholic traditionalist, Juan Donoso Cortés.

Translated from the French by N. Dass.

The image shows, “Don Miguel de Unamuno (with a View of Salamanca), by J. Solana, painted ca. 1935-1936.

Under cover of Anti-Francoism, They Are Revising History

For the past fifteen years or so, the use of history for political ends has become the indelible mark of the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE) and the cryptocommunist far Left (today united under the acronym, Podemos Izquierda Unida). The same talking-points are always mentioned by the political authorities and the mainstream media: the Francoist repression” (or White Repression), and the repression of the Left during the Spanish Civil War and the Franco dictatorship. On the other hand, a careful examination reveals the repression of the Right by the Left. But for the Left – it is said – only “mourning” was done under the dictatorship.

Over the years, the memorialist ideology of the Spanish Left has steadily grown. History, which bizarrely, is said to be dominated by the Right, has become suspect. It has been replaced by “historical and democratic memory.” Based on individual and subjective memories, it is not concerned with explaining and understanding, but with selecting, condemning and denouncing.

Forgiveness and Dialogue – All That Is Finished

In the aftermath of the Franco dictatorship, from 1976 to 1982, two principles animated “the spirit of democratic transition:” Reciprocal forgiveness and dialogue between government and opposition. It was not a question of forgetting the past, but of overcoming it and looking resolutely to the future. There was then, as the authorities are pleased to say today, “no voluntary amnesia,” nor “a pact of silence.”

On the contrary, the democratic transition was based on a perfect awareness of the failures of the past and on the will to overcome them. It was not a question of imposing silence on historians and journalists, but of letting them debate, and refusing to allow politicians to take up the subject for their partisan struggles. There was therefore no oversight; but, on the contrary, a particular attention was paid to history, which led to an impressive number of publications, the likes of which doubtless had never been seen.

But from the 1990s onwards, and in particular after the 1993 election campaign, the attitude of the Socialist Party changed. A neo-Socialist and post-Marxist cultural tidal wave soon overwhelmed Spain. The Manichean history of the first years of Franco’s regime, which was believed to be permanently buried with him, has resurfaced, but in another form. With José Luis Zapatero’s Historical Memory Law of 2007, new impetus was given to the arguments of the “Memoria histórica” and a real atmosphere of pre-civil war gradually settled upon the country.

Memorial Amnesia

In December 2008, the Socialist parliamentary group presented to Parliament a new bill to reform and amplify the 2007 law. In its first draft, this bill provided for a Truth Commission (sic!), composed of eleven designated members by Parliament to tell the historical truth. It also provided for fines of up to 150,000 euros, prison terms for up to 4 years, destruction of published works and the dismissal of teachers found guilty for up to ten years. Luckily, this undemocratic monstrosity has been overhauled and to-date it is a new, “softer” draft that is waiting to be examined and voted on by parliamentarians.

Contrary to what the title of a Parisian evening newspaper recently asserted, it is not the ban on the cult of Franco that divides Spain, but the definition or the meaning that the new memorial bill gives to “the apology of Francoism.” It is indeed peculiar and disturbing to see parties of the Left, which have become amnesiac, presenting a supposedly democratic bill which is basically only a step towards the establishment of a kind of soft Sovietism. It is mind-boggling to see left-wing parties claiming to be part of the Second Republic and democracy also forgetting or camouflaging their own historical memory.

The Crimes Of The Left

How can we forget that portion of the Left’s responsibility in the origin of the Civil War, when the revolutionary myth of armed struggle was shared by all the Left?

How can we forget that liberal democracy was seen, by the Bolshevized Socialist Party, by the Communist Party and by the Anarchists, only as a means to achieve their ends: “Popular democracy” or the socialist state?

How can we forget the use of massive political violence by the Socialist Party during the October 1934 putsch, or coup d’état against the Liberal-Centrist government of the radical, Alejandro Lerroux, whose party was fueled by Freemasons?

How can we forget that during the elections of the Popular Front, in February 1936, 50 seats on the Right were invalidated and systematically granted to the Left, so that it could have a majority?

How can we forget that the President of the Republic, Niceto Alcalá Zamora, considered too conservative, was dismissed “in violation of the constitution,” after a real “parliamentary coup d’état,” according to his own words?

How can we forget the terror on the street (more than 300 dead in three months), the marginalization and exclusion of the parliamentary opposition in June?

Abuses In Both Camps

How can we forget that the atrocities and extrajudicial executions were as terrible and numerous in one camp as in the other? How can we forget that the founding fathers of the Republic, the intellectuals Marañon, Perez de Ayala, Ortega y Gasset, or even Unamuno – the evil that happened him, according to Alejandro Amenábar – the true liberals and democrats of the time, opposed the Popular Front and chose the National camp?

Why spread the idea that, since the beginning of the establishment of democracy, the Spaniards have been unable to overcome the past, that the Transition has been cowardice, and that the Right continues, for the most part, to be Francoist?

Why delegitimize the democratization of Spain and undermine the 1978 Constitution? Why not finally let the dead bury the dead permanently? In 1547, after having captured the city of Wittenberg, Charles V visited the tomb of the man who had been his harshest enemy, Martin Luther. Some advisers suggested that he burn the remains of the “heretic.” Magnanimously the emperor replied: “He found his judge. I make war on the living, not on the dead.”

The 1978 Constitution Flouted

The Civil War historian cannot subscribe to a litany of hate, revenge and demolition. He knows very well that we must not confuse the origins and antecedents of the Civil War with the coup d’état of July 18, 1936, nor the Civil War with Franco’s dictatorship; that all these are very different facts; and that, as such, they can be judged and interpreted in very different ways.

By confusing everything, mixing everything up, we condemn ourselves to not understanding anything. Suitably, article 16 of the 1978 Constitution guarantees freedom of expression, ideological freedom and freedom of worship and religious belief, without any other possible restrictions than those derived from the maintenance of public order, protected by law.

Hopefully, parliamentarians will remember it when examining and voting on this new bill, which is so anti-democratic and obscurantist, so radically incompatible with what the “values of the European Union” are or should be.

Arnaud Imatz, a Basque-French political scientist and historian, holds a State Doctorate (DrE) in political science and is a correspondent-member of the Royal Academy of History (Spain), and a former international civil servant at OECD. He is a specialist in the Spanish Civil War, European populism, and the political struggles of the Right and the Left – all subjects on which he has written several books. He has also published numerous articles on the political thought of the founder and theoretician of the Falange, José Antonio Primo de Rivera, as well as the Liberal philosopher, José Ortega y Gasset, and the Catholic traditionalist, Juan Donoso Cortés.

Translated from the Spanish by N. Dass.

The image shows a child’s drawing, at the back of which is this inscription in the child’s own hand: “his scene shows a bombing in my town, Port-Bou. María Dolores Sanz, age 13.” Drawing ca. 1936-1938.



How The West Was Lost

A few weeks ago, I watched Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, and Quentin Tarantino’s movie delivered to me what I have been seeking. Namely, the exact point America careened off the path to flourishing, abandoning our long, mostly successful search for ever-increasing excellence and achievement. It was 1969.

As the shadows lengthen and the darkness spreads, perhaps it does not matter when twilight fell. But why twilight fell does matter, and much of the answer can be found in the pages of Amity Shlaes’s new book, Great Society, which narrates the decade’s massive expansion of government, and of elite power, all in the service of the Left, that we were told was certain to give us Utopia, but instead destroyed our civilization.

That America was being destroyed was not completely obvious at the time. In fact, America sixty years ago could absorb a lot of abuse—until the early 1970s America still seemed mostly on track, just more colorful around the edges, as shown in Tarantino’s movie.

In it, the older America, of a sense of duty and a desire for achievement, tempered by human foibles, is contrasted with the new America, of thieving, murderous hippies, emancipated from unchosen bonds by the social changes imposed on us during the 1960s, and acting badly, as men and women always do when so emancipated. A society composed of such cannot succeed or accomplish anything at all, something known to wise men throughout all ages, but which we were made to forget, to our harm and sorrow.

The movie ends differently than real life—in real life, the hippies won, and as a result we have accomplished nothing of any importance since 1969. Do not forget—it has been fifty-one years since 1969, when we landed men on the Moon, and 1969 was sixty-six years after men first flew. Compare the eras, and weep, for we now know that 1969 was our apogee, and that ever since, we have blindly stumbled along a crooked path that leads nowhere.

But in failure lies opportunity. I think that if we play it right, the 1960s will merely have been a detour off the path. We can now return to the straight path—but only if we have the will to make hard choices, to sell the present, for a time, to pay for our future. As the Wuhan virus spreads through our hollowed-out society, perhaps, indeed, now is the time. We will see.

That the 1960s spelled the effective end of America is not, to the perceptive, news. For fifty years, our ruling class has used their control of education and tele-visual media to indoctrinate our children and hoodwink our adults by painting an utterly false picture of the 1960s.

The party line has been that the decade was a shining time for America, when we overthrew old verities and emancipated everyone in society, resulting in a coruscating new dawn of liberty for America. And by unfortunate coincidence, our elites had, and gladly used, a peerless tool to silence objections, because it was in the 1960s that African Americans, the sole American group worthy of any type of emancipation or the subject of any relevant and unjust oppression in American history, actually got the civil rights promised them in 1865.

This allowed any objection to any aspect of the Left edifice built in the 1960s to be cast as racism and ignored—which it still is today, hugely reinforced by new, malicious Left doctrines such as intersectionality, thereby creating the very real risk of racial conflict in any American rebirth. I do not have a solution for that, yet.

On to the book. Shlaes is known as a historian of the early twentieth century. Her biography of Calvin Coolidge and her history of the Great Depression (The Forgotten Man) are modern classics. This is straight history, with no ideological overlay. Shlaes is not really here to criticize the 1960s, or their most visible manifestation, the so-called Great Society. Yes, the hubris of the men at the nation’s helm is on pristine display, but Shlaes presents the facts almost without comment, letting the reader draw his own conclusions.

The author organizes her chapters by short periods, months or years. She also pulls through certain themes, among them the television series Bonanza, which first aired at the turn of the decade, and went off the air a few years into the 1970s. Bonanza, reruns of which I watched with my grandfather as a child, was an optimistic show, reflecting an optimistic America—one where anything could be accomplished with hard work and the right attitude, most of all knowing and doing one’s duty.

In 1960, Americans correctly perceived themselves as strong and the federal government, which had vastly less reach than today and directly touched the average American’s life nearly not at all, as a partner in continuing that strength. Big business, labor, and the government openly cooperated to everyone’s perceived benefit.

True, there was always some tension about how the pie got distributed, with intermittent conflicts between labor and management, and fears in many quarters that socialism was lurking just around the corner. In 1960 through 1962, there were some rumblings of economic discontent, and, almost unnoticed, the pernicious adoption by President Kennedy of an executive order allowing government employees to unionize. But there was little to suggest new problems ahead.

Trouble was being brewed by the Left, though. Of course, the Left had long been striving to get a grip on America, but had never managed to dominate even the most obvious areas, such as factory workers. The unions were, in fact, mostly ferociously anti-Communist, and a key part of the necessary and heroic suppression by Americans of Communism during the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s.

Realizing this, the traditional American hard Left had switched to dominating the culture, the institutions, and morphed into the New Left. Shlaes acknowledges this was a multi-decade program of the Left: “The ‘long march through the institutions’ that Antonio Gramsci sketched out and Rudi Dutschke demanded had succeeded.” (In America, this was the project of the infamous Frankfurt School). In effect, therefore, this book is a history of how the New Left took power, and ruined America.

Shlaes focuses on the Port Huron meeting of June 1962, which sowed the seeds of much of the rest of the decade. Port Huron was a meeting of well-to-do young New Left activists, organized and paid for by the United Auto Workers, naively eager to enlist young people in the goal of helping keep the pie properly divided.

Politics was nothing new for the great union leaders, such as Walter Reuther, but what the UAW and its elders did not realize is that the young leftists they recruited believed pies grew on trees, and anyway were less interested in pies, and more interested in destruction of the American system and its replacement by something entirely new.

The older American Left, exemplified by Reuther, wanted social democracy in the European mold. The New Left wanted, as the ideological Left has always wanted since the 1700s, a complete reworking of society to achieve a new, Utopian paradise of justice and equality. But Reuther and his compatriots could not see this.

The degeneration heralded by the New Left did not manifest itself into sudden existence, it had long been in preparation, and had multiple parents, not just the Frankfurt School.

It began in earnest sixty years before, among the Progressives who rejected America and demanded its replacement by a technocracy. Such men took advantage of, in sequence, crises to implement their vision—first World War I, then the Depression, then World War II. To the observant, by the 1960s signs of the rot created by the Left were all around, from the destruction of classical architecture to the perversions of higher education William F. Buckley called out in God and Man at Yale.

The clear-eyed among us, such as Ronald Reagan, warned us, but even then, the elite rained contempt on Reagan and his message, thereby strengthening those actively seeking to undermine America.

Why the Left has the will and ability to execute such a strategy over a century and the Right has, so far, not, is a topic for another time. But that reality is on full display in this history, beginning with the Presidency of John Kennedy. It was those young Port Huron-type leftists, along with their slightly older leaders, such as Michael Harrington, who in 1961 quickly began to strongly influence the direction of America.

Kennedy surrounded himself with men who were open to left-wing goals, and insufferably utopian, though most were still not wholly of the New Left. (Shlaes narrates how an obsessive topic of discussion among Kennedy’s White House staff, immediately after Kennedy’s inauguration, was wondering how they would spend their time in the last two years of Kennedy’s term, after they had solved all the nation’s problems during the first two years).

But when Kennedy was shot, and Johnson came to power, it immediately became clear that Johnson wanted nothing more than huge federal programs, in the mold of the New Deal, only bigger and better, to cement his legacy—programs that the Left, with its infrastructure in waiting, could and did easily use for their own purposes.

Shlaes deftly sketches Johnson’s tools—his solid Democratic majorities in Congress, his own political abilities, the manufactured sense of emergency used to circumvent democratic checks (always a favorite tool of the Left). We go through 1964, with a cast of characters once famous who have now left the stage—everyone from Daniel Patrick Moynihan to Sargent Shriver.

Right off the bat Johnson and the men who advised him rammed through massive “anti-poverty” legislation based on New Left principles. In November, Johnson was elected to the Presidency in his own right by a landslide. This cemented Johnson’s desire and ability to execute the now-named Great Society, which meant fountains of cash distributed at all levels (along with many other pernicious non-monetary changes, such as huge increases in legal immigration).

One level was the federal government, where massive new programs sprouted like weeds. But a second level was handouts of tax dollars to states, most of all to large cities, where poverty and Democrats were concentrated. Shlaes goes into great detail about these various programs, everything from the massive new housing developments to Head Start.

Some of the mayors, especially Republican mayors, resented that the price of free money from Washington was toeing the line that Washington set, but they had no real choice, and Johnson’s compliant Congress changed the laws whenever necessary to ensure that local control was a mere fiction.

And a side effect of money sluicing down from, and controlled from, above was more erosion of America’s intermediary institutions, a bulwark against leftist domination, but already in decline due to government expansion of previous decades.

These Great Society programs all had as a primary goal the funding of the Left as an institution, and were the beginning of the massive self-sustaining ecosystem of the modern Left, where to this day enormous sums flow from government, business, and private individuals and entities to fund a galaxy of leftist pressure groups.

In 1965, for example, Mayor Richard Daley of Chicago was handed money for a “community action program” to hire one thousand full-time “community action representatives” at a salary of $4,070 each (about $35,000 today). Such “representatives” were instructed from Washington, in the form of a 262-page book that encouraged organizing the poor to protest to demand handouts, using the techniques pioneered by Saul Alinsky. (In later years, an ambitious young man, growing up in Hawaii, would move to Chicago and slot himself directly into this by-then long-existing ecosystem, ultimately leveraging it to make himself President).

This funding and support from well-connected elders has always been lacking on the Right, which is a problem the Right must solve in order to achieve any of its goals.

Shlaes also touches on the importance of the radical leftist judiciary in cementing the Great Society, creating law out of whole cloth that fit with the ideology being implemented. Such decisions included Goldberg v. Kelly, deeming government handouts a property right; Reynolds v. Sims, rewriting the Constitution to ensure states with big cities were ruled by those cities; and many other Supreme Court decisions.

And on a lower level, thousands of suits were brought by the government-funded Legal Services Corporation, created to serve the poor in their minor disputes such as divorces and property, but weaponized to instead frustrate any legislative choice that did not conform to the goals of the Left, and still used for that purpose (joined today by nearly all the top law firms in America).

Such domination of the judiciary by the Left, on display most recently in the practice of federal district judges immediately blocking any action by Donald Trump not approved by the Left by issuing illegitimate nationwide injunctions, is another major problem blocking future Right victories.

Only by crushing such Left judicial opposition, and restoring the federal judiciary to its proper extremely modest role, or by having Right judges finally use their power in the same way as Left judges have for sixty years, can the Right win.

Meanwhile, Tom Hayden and other firebrands of the New Left were moving even further leftward, unhappy that the Great Society was not radical enough. In 1965 and 1966, openly supporting Communism in North Vietnam became the new chic, and Hayden and his compatriots traveled to North Vietnam, receiving the usual Potemkin village treatment and eagerly believing the lies they were fed. (Later, Hayden and his wife Jane Fonda would name their son after a Vietnamese Communist assassin who had tried to kill Robert McNamara by bombing a bridge over which his motorcade was to pass).

This drove a wedge between the leftists in the White House and the even more radical set outside it, but also ensured that further movement Left continued, as the younger generation of leftists replaced the older.

Soon enough, no surprise, it became evident that the desired and expected Utopian results, by whatever measure, were not forthcoming. The poor were worse off and violence among the poor swept the nation. This frustrated Johnson and all the men surrounding him, so he turned to housing, in 1966 and 1967.

The result, in an explicit attempt to achieve “human flourishing,” was disaster, with the building of massive Le Corbusier-inspired tower blocks of public housing that immediately become festering hellholes, such as Pruitt-Igoe in St. Louis, which Shlaes profiles up to its demolition in 1972. Meant as a Utopian solution that would prevent rioting by the dissatisfied poor, such housing instead exacerbated the Great Society’s destruction of black communities.

And such housing, long a pet project of the Left in its desire to remake human nature and create “scientific” solutions to intractable problems, would have been even more widespread and destructive, were it not for the efforts of people like Jane Jacobs. (Nowadays, bizarrely, we are often told that such public housing projects were the acts of racist conservatives, in an act of historical mendacity that would be breathtaking were it not the norm for Left “history”).

Among all this, Shlaes covers the rise of inflation and the move away from the gold standard, along with other economic matters, as the socialism of the Great Society inevitably led to stagflation. She narrates Johnson’s choice not to run again, and how the cultivation of the New Left in the early 1960s resulted in the takeover of the Democratic party by the New Left at the end of the 1960s.

She talks about the sclerosis in the once-peerless American auto industry (and other heavy industries), and the effect this had on the labor/management cooperation found earlier in the decade. Wound in between are what are now commonplace government behaviors, then new: massively underestimating the costs of government programs; using word salads and names as propaganda; ignoring regulatory costs on society; failing to perform, or care in any way about, cost-benefit analysis. We are used to it all now, just as a man living next to an open sewer becomes inured to the stench, but Shlaes does a good job narrating how it all came into existence.

It is particularly interesting that Shlaes discusses a document written by Moynihan, 1962’s “Guiding Principles of Federal Architecture.” In itself, this one-page memo was not particularly objectionable, but its call for “efficient and economical facilities” combined with a call for “contemporary architects” to direct the federal government’s buildings, not vice versa, resulted in hundreds of billions of dollars of ugly federal architecture.

This did not have to be, but was inevitable in context because of the pernicious dominance of architectural Modernism. Shlaes’s mention of this memo is interesting because only a few weeks ago, this now completely obscure document was prominent again, when it was leaked that the Trump administration was considering, after sixty years, revising this document to call for a return to classical architecture.

The usual suspects shrieked “fascism!”, and nothing has been done yet, but I certainly hope it will—though it needs to be part of a much larger and comprehensive rework of the federal government, of which new architecture will be a key demonstrative element.

By the time Nixon took over in 1969, the cracks were starting to show, but Nixon eagerly continued Johnson’s policies, and often expanded them. In part this was because he didn’t much care for domestic policy (Shlaes quotes him after his 1962 gubernatorial loss, “At least I’ll never have to talk about crap like dope addiction again”); in part this was simply adherence to leftist pieties that had already addicted the mainstream of the Republican party. (George Romney, Mitt Romney’s father, features frequently in this book as an eager toady to the Left, just like his son is today).

Nixon, in fact, tried to expand the Great Society to include a universal basic income, and fell just short, because Vietnam and the fact the Left had hated Nixon for decades for his anti-Communism precluded the lockstep forced cooperation that had allowed the early Great Society to be rammed through by Johnson—not to mention the economy was not doing well, and the feeling of shared prosperity had already, not coincidentally, begun to disappear.

Shlaes ends with the beginning of stagflation and the end of the gold standard, with, shades of Donald Trump, Nixon agitating against the Federal Reserve’s unwillingness to loosen the money supply to help his re-election. Of course, one immediate result of the Great Society was economic catastrophe in the 1970s.

Shlaes nods to this, although it is outside the scope of the book proper. That was, ultimately, however, the least important effect of the Great Society. Its most important effect was to encourage the undeserving to believe they are being unjustly denied what belongs to them, while rejecting that any person has any duty that counterbalances freedom. This fragmented our society, and thereby destroyed the unity and purpose that made it possible for America to accomplish great things.

All this is a sad history, but instructive. A basic principle of mine, and of Foundationalism, is that a well-run government should have limited ends and unlimited means. Because elites love power, and rotten elites love power dearly for what it can give them that they cannot earn, expansion of government in practice means expansion of ends.

So it was with us, but worse, since our elites combined love of power with a noxious and wholly destructive ideology. The answer is not incremental changes; it is to defenestrate our entire ruling class and strip the Left permanently of its money and power, by almost any means necessary; then to rebuild a virtuous society that takes advantage of America’s unique history and place in the world, and what I believe is still a unique attitude among many of its people.

With a new ruling class organically arising from the most talented and dedicated, combined with a complete restructuring of education, the termination of any unearned benefit (especially one based on any immutable characteristic), the sharp restriction of the franchise to those with an actual stake in society, and other radical changes, we may have a chance. I have been saying for some time that history will return. 2020 is looking like the year; let’s take advantage of it, for as Lenin said, “Timing is all.”

Charles is a business owner and operator, in manufacturing, and a recovering big firm M&A lawyer. He runs the blog, The Worthy House.

The image shows the Woodstock concert poster, from 1969, by Arnold Skolnik.

The Siege Of The Alcazar: Myth And History

When Brigadier General Federico Fuentes Gomez de Salazar died on January 15, 2018, just before he could celebrate his 100th birthday, he was the last surviving defender of the Alcazar of Toledo. His remains were deposited, according to his will, in the crypt of the Alcazar, where he had been the director of the museum for nearly twenty years.

Who does not know the epic story of the defense of the Alcazar of Toledo? As soon as the uprising began, Colonel José Moscardó Ituarte, military commander of Toledo Square, joined the movement. On July 22, unable to confront the opposing troops that General Riquelme sent from Madrid, Moscardó and his men took refuge in the Alcazar.

They were joined by a group of civilian volunteers (including Federico Fuentes who was then seventeen years old), and by the families of many defenders. A total of 1203 combatants, including 107 volunteer civilians (60 young Falangist activists, 5 Carlists, 8 monarchists, 15 right-wing independents and 1 radical who would take on the most dangerous missions under Captain Vela and who would suffer the heaviest losses), along with 564 non-combatants (mostly women and children).

Very quickly, surrounded by much larger numbers, they were bombarded without respite by artillery and enemy airplanes. But all to no avail! The Alcazar resisted and did not surrender. One by one, the multiple assaults were driven back. Two powerful mines shattered most of the walls, but when the assailants jumped through, certain of victory, the survivors sprang from the ruins and repelled the onslaught again and again.

In two months of terrible fighting, from July 21 to September 27, 1936, only 35 men deserted, who were largely worried about the fate of their families, whom they wanted to join at all costs.

Of all the dramatic episodes of the siege of the Alcazar, the best known is that of the telephone conversation of Moscardó with his son, Luis. Arrested in Toledo on 23 July by far-left militiamen, Luis was threatened with being shot if his father and the Alcazar did not surrender. The few brief phrases the two men exchanged quickly go around the world:

Luis: Dad!
Moscardó: What’s going on with you, my son?
Luis: Nothing, at all… they say they will shoot me if the Alcazar does not surrender. But don’t worry about me.
Moscardó: If it is true commend your soul to God, shout Long live Spain, and you will be a hero who died for her. Goodbye my son, a big kiss, with much love!
Luis: Goodbye Dad, a big kiss, with much love!
Moscardó: You can all spare yourself the waiting for end of the deadline and start shooting, my son. The Alcazar will never surrender!

The threat would be carried out, not on the same day, as the ABC newspaper in Seville said at the time (a mistake reproduced in France by Henri Massis and Robert Brasillach, in the first version of their book The Cadets of the Alcazar, published in 1936), but actually a month later. Luis was shot in Toledo on August 23, along with eighty other inmates.

Taken with the other prisoners to the Puerta del Cambron, he was executed at the foot of the wall of the imperial city. All along the way, clutching his rosary, the condemned man prayed in a low voice. About his son, Moscardó later wrote: “He twice shouted, ‘Long live Spain! Long live Spain! Arise, Spain!’ and fell before the Marxist rifles, for God and for the Fatherland.”

The colonel learned of the tragic death of his two sons José and Luis (one in Barcelona, the other in Toledo), on the day of the liberation of the Alcazar (September 28, 1936). Asked years later, he said: “That moment was so hard and so cruel that I felt my legs crumble under me… this was the price of my glory. I will never be able to feel the slightest pride for an act that my children have paid so much for!”

Though well established, the facts have always and largely been disputed by the historiography favorable to the Popular Front. The “symbol of Francoist hagiography” could not fail to provoke controversy.

The first critical version was conceived by the American historian, Herbert Matthews. In his book, The Yoke and the Arrows (1957), based on various testimonies, including that of the painter, Quintanilla, Matthews questioned the essence of this episode, believing that “the story was too good to be true.” He claimed that Luis Moscardó was a 19-year-old soldier who died in Madrid, while defending the Montaña barracks; that telephone communication was impossible because the line was cut; and that finally the refugee women and children were just hostages.

Authors that came after him, claimed that Moscardó had not dared to surrender because his own comrades-in-arms would have shot him. Others added that under no circumstances did the Republicans intend to carry out their threat.

Finally, some authors went so far as to suggest that Luis was a coward and that his father would have liked to have him shot. These aspersions and slanders would have not deserved attention had the version imagined by Matthews not itself been taken up by historians and journalists, such as, Hugh Thomas (1961), Vilanova (1963), Southworth (1963), Cabanellas (1973), Nourry (1976), or more recently Preston (1994) and Herreros (1995).

But in 1997, in their book, El Alcázar de Toledo. Final de una polémica (Madrid, Actas, 1997), historians Alfonso Bullon de Mendoza and Luis Eugenio Togores, have gathered sufficient evidence to silence the controversy. Luis was actually 24-years old and not 19. He was not in the military, since he had done his military service four years earlier. He was not in Madrid, but in Toledo.

His mother had begged him not to join his father and not to leave her alone. He was arrested on July 23rd, imprisoned with his younger brother, Carmelo, and shot on August 23rd. The phone line was not cut. It was controlled by the militiamen who occupied the Toledo telephone exchange. They could connect or disconnect, as they pleased. Five officers, present in Moscardó’s office, had witnessed the scene. One of Colonel Moscardó’s officers, Commander Cirujano, immediately left the office to gather and inform all the defenders.

In a 2010 interview with ABC, General Fuentes said, “I can testify to the veracity of this conversation in which the colonel sent his son to his death. There is also the telephone operator, a young soldier, who listened in and later recounted the conversation. I was next to the office with several people – a cadet, my brother and my cousins. But we could of course hear that Moscardó…”

In the Toledo Provincial Deputation Building, where Luis Moscardó was being held, there was another prisoner who also testified. This was Luis Moreno Nieto, who was later a ABC correspondent for nearly fifty years. Moreno Nieto reported that he saw Luis come out really upset. His statement would be corroborated by two other people present in the presidential office of the deputation – the caretaker and the telephone operator.

In fact, Cándido Cabellos, lawyer, head of the Toledo militias, and the “republican” intermediary of the commander of the Alcazar, had several militiamen around him, four of whom testified after the Civil War. As to the possibility that non-combatant civilians were hostages, it is simply a non-starter. Of the 564, 16 were in fact prisoners who were never used as bargaining chips. We have the exact list of the names of the besieged, who were all decorated with the Laureate Cross of San Fernando.

In a recent biography of Franco, the historian and polemicist Paul Preston, close to the Spanish Socialist Party, also persists in denouncing the alleged hostage-taking and criticizing the “apocryphal legend” of the telephone conversation. No doubt he did not bother to read the few honest and edifying testimonies that appear in the archives of Moscardó, and which is given below:

Here is first an excerpt from Matthews’s letter to the widow of General Moscardó, dated September 20, 1960:

“Dear Madam, I am writing to you at the suggestion of some friends who informed me that the passage in my book, The Yoke and the Arrows, which refers to the Alcazar has pained you and your family. I regret this and I beg you and your family to accept my most sincere apologies… I am convinced, having read the arguments of Manuel Aznar and discussed this case with trustworthy people, that I was completely wrong. I am preparing a revised edition of my book … and I can assure you that the chapter on the Alcazar will no longer be included.”

On June 25, 1960, the historian, Hugh Thomas, who had also given credit to Matthews’s version, also retracted. He wrote a letter, published in The New Statements (then reproduced in the ABC of June 29, 1960), which read: “After a full search… I have come to the conclusion that I was wrong… I would like to offer my sincerest apologies to the members of the Moscardó family, in particular to the general’s widow, Doña Maria Moscardó.”

In another letter, dated June 15, 1983, the French journalist from Le Figaro, Philippe Nourry, also author of a book on Franco, wrote the following words: “I am sorry indeed to have made this mistake concerning the reality of the telephone conversation between Colonel Moscardó and his son Luis. I understand that it must be very painful for the Colonel’s family to find that doubt continues to hang over this glorious and dramatic episode of the Civil War. Certainly, the extract from the notebooks, which you have just sent me, obviously provides irrefutable proof of the truth of the facts.”

The author of the anti-Alcazar legend, Herbert Matthews, kept his word. In the revised edition of his book, he writes: “There is no doubt that the conversation took place, that the father had to suffer this agony and that his son bravely faced death.” Then he concluded bluntly: “Everything was really according to the best and worst of the Spanish tradition.”

In the new Alcazar Army Museum in Toledo, Colonel Moscardó’s office remains one of the main attractions, although one can no longer listen to the moving but fictive reproduction of the historical conversation between father and son. Interviewed by the ABC in 2010, at the inauguration of the museum, General Federico Fuentes concluded with a lump in his throat and wet eyes: “A civil war is the worst thing that can ever happen.”

Arnaud Imatz, a Basque-French political scientist and historian, holds a State Doctorate (DrE) in political science and is a correspondent-member of the Royal Academy of History (Spain), and a former international civil servant at OECD. He is a specialist in the Spanish Civil War, European populism, and the political struggles of the Right and the Left – all subjects on which he has written several books. He has also published numerous articles on the political thought of the founder and theoretician of the Falange, José Antonio Primo de Rivera, as well as the Liberal philosopher, José Ortega y Gasset, and the Catholic traditionalist, Juan Donoso Cortés.

The image shows a scene from the siege and defense of the Alcazar.

This article was translated from the French by N. Dass.

A Child Of The Spanish Civil War

Understanding the Spanish Civil War means knowing that it was “a mixture of vanity and sacrifice, clownery and heroism,” wrote Arthur Koestler in his autobiography, The Invisible Writing. It was a fratricidal war between fellow citizens and friends, between parents and children, between brothers and sisters. The examples speak for themselves. Thus, the brothers Manuel and Antonio Machado, whose literary output had previously been joint, clashed over ideological reasons – one was in the anti-communist, pro-national camp, the other was a member of the Association of Friends of the Soviet Union and sympathized with the United Socialist Youth.

Buenaventura Durruti, the anarchist leader who died under obscure circumstances, most likely a victim of the Communists, opposed his younger brother Marciano Pedro Durruti, who was a Falangist. Constancia de la Mora Maura, aristocrat and member of the Communist Party, whose husband, Ignacio Hidalgo de Cisneros, was the commander-in-chief of the Republican Air Force, clashed with her sister, Marichu de la Mora, writer, journalist, personal friend of José Antonio Primo de Rivera, and one of the founders of the Women’s Section. It was a total war, in fact, between left-wing totalitarians and right-wing authoritarians.

In the Spain of 1936, there were no more democrats. Hatred and bigotry infected both sides. But respect for others, nobility and generosity sometimes transcended divisions.

Here is the moving testimony of José Ataz, a young “hijo de rojo” (Son of the Reds), who experienced the horrors of a fratricidal war and the terrible privations of the immediate post-war period. His is a very human true story, which alone allows us to understand the complexity of this terrible historical event, which was commemorated in 2006. A story that does not judge, that does not say good or bad, that does not pursue demonization, or discriminated between the pure and the impure – but which contributes honestly and modestly to the search for truth and sincere reconciliation.

In August 1936, José, an eight-year-old boy, witnessed an excruciating scene that marked him forever. His father, Joaquin Ataz Hernandez, Secretary of the UGT railwaymen’s union in Murcia, and provincial leader of the PSOE, had just been appointed by his party to sit on the Special People’s Court of Murcia. The People’s Courts were created at the end of August, 1936, by decree of the government. They were composed of seventeen judges, fourteen of whom were appointed by the parties and trade unions of the Popular Front (left-wing liberal-Jacobins, socialists, communists, Trotskyists and anarchists). On September 11, the People’s Court of Murcia sat for the first time.

Of the twenty-seven people tried that day, ten were sentenced to death, eight to life imprisonment; the others were given heavy prison sentences. Among those sentenced to death were the parish priest, Don Sotero Gonzalez Lerma and the Murcia’s provincial chief of the Falange, Federico Servet Clemencín.

Joaquin Ataz Hernandez voted the death penalty for the young Falangist leader. The order he received from his party could not be argued – the “fascist” had to be executed. “My father had known Federico since he was a child,” says José. “They were not friends, but they liked each other and respected each other. Also, just after the sentence, he approached to say: “Federico, I really regret …” but before he could add another word, Federico interrupted him: “Don’t worry about it, I would have done the same with you, give me a cigarette!”

Two days later, very early, on the morning of Sunday September 13, several trucks full of men and women awoke José. It was rumored that the Government wanted to pardon the condemned, and the crowd in turmoil, demanded “justice.” In a state of dismay, the civilian governor ordered the executions be hastily carried. The furious crowd soon entered the prison courtyard and came upon the corpses.

The bodies were desecrated and mutilated mercilessly. In the middle of the morning, little José, who played in the street, saw and heard the vociferous populace. Overexcited men and women seemed to be pulling a strange load with ropes. With all the curiosity and agility of his age, José got close – and he was seized with dread. In front of him law a bloodied body, which had been turned into shreds for being dragged along the pavement. None of the viragos present prevented him from witnessing the scene. No one came to his aid when he vomited and fell unconscious to the ground.

As soon as he recovered, he ran to his parents’ house crying. His mother consoled him. How can such acts of savagery be even tolerated, she asked her husband in disgust? The father could not answer as his shame was great. At this moment, they did not know that it was the body of the parish priest, Don Sotero Gonzalez Lerma, who had been horribly mutilated, dragged through the streets and hanged from a lamppost of the façade of his church, where a militiaman triumphantly cut off his ear and demanded that a tavern-keeper serve it well grilled with a glass of wine.

Soon thereafter, Joaquin Ataz Hernandez resigned from the People’s Court. At the end of April 1937, he was appointed head of the Prison Corps, and not long after he became head of the Totana labor camp (Murcia), where nearly two-thousand political prisoners (those sentenced to life imprisonment, or thirty years’ imprisonment) served their sentences in very difficult but nevertheless humane conditions. On April 1, 1939, bells rang and firecrackers burst. José and his two brothers saw their father, unflappable, calmly combing his hair, while their mother sobbed: “Don’t worry the children, the war is over, but I have to leave for a few days on the road.” The few days would turn into years.

Under the seal of secrecy, José learned from his mother that his father had managed to embark on a journey to Mexico. To survive, the little boy had to work. He was, by turns, a kitchen boy, and apprentice carpenter, storekeeper and baker. He finally and enthusiastically returned to school. In class, all children knew the political background of each family, but no one said a word.

In October, 1942, during a civics course, José by chance heard his teacher explain that José Antonio Primo de Rivera, the leader of the Falange, and sentenced to death by a People’s Court and executed in November 1936, “considered that the birth of socialism was right.” These words, in the mouth of an adversary, seemed so unusual that José immersed himself in reading the Complete Works of the founder of the Falange. When he finished, he was both excited and convinced.

José now faced a serious internal crisis. Was he betraying the ideals for which his father fought so honestly throughout his life? Luckily, José was able to discuss everything with his father. For some time now, he had known that his father was not exiled to Mexico but was living in hiding with his own parents.

Without further hesitation, José visited him and made him read the speeches and testament of José Antonio. “I was frankly asking him about the problem in my own conscience,” he said, “and he answered me with all the generosity and nobility I expected of him: “Listen, my son, I have no moral authority to advise you in a realm, where I have done things, rightly or wrongly, for which you must suffer all kinds of privations and know hunger. A single person can follow his ideals to the very end, without limits. But a man who has a wife and children has no right to compromise the survival of his family. Do what your heart dictates, but always make sure you don’t compromise others by your decisions. Hear me good, Pepe, always act with honesty and consistency!”

His conscience finally free, and “having obtained the permission of the only man whose authority I recognized over my own person,” added José, “I joined the Youth Front and I could finally wear my first blueshirt.” Head of Century of the Youth Front, he then began studying law and was appointed head of the SEU (official student union) of the university district of Murcia.

At the end of 1948, José’s father, who had lived cloistered for more than nine years, decided to leave his hiding place. He took the first train to Madrid. Thanks to the grateful friendship of people he helped during the war, he found work. For two and a half years, he was employed in an electric lamp shop in the Puerta del Sol, then in a canning factory, without ever being worried. But, one day in October 1951, his son José, then a candidate senior officer cadet in a regiment of Seville, learns that his father had been arrested, a victim of the denunciation of an employee dismissed for embezzlement.

José had to do everything possible to help his father. In the spring of 1952, a War Council was convened. Many witnesses took the stand. All pointed out that the conduct of the accused during the war was beyond reproach. Among them were some who even owed him their lives, as was the case with the professor of commercial law at the University of Murcia, Salvador Martinez-Moya, who was undersecretary of justice in the government of the radical Alejandro Lerroux. Unyielding, the prosecutor asked for the death penalty. The jury withdrew and deliberated for many long minutes. When they reconvened, the president pronounced the sentence: The accused was sentenced to thirty-years in prison – but because of the various remissions of sentence and pardons granted, he was immediately released.

After completing his studies, José joined the law firm of Don Salvador Martinez-Moya, who was a key witness in his father’s trial. As chance would have it, he was joined in the firm by the eldest son of Federico Servet, the provincial leader of the Falange whose death his own father had voted for. “I got along very well with Ramon,” José wrote. “We never talked about our fathers, but we knew the tragic relationship they had had. Ramon was very disappointed to see that Spain was moving away from what his father had dreamed of. Finally, he went to Mexico and we lost touch with each other.”

Intelligent and hard-working, José held various positions in the administration. It was the beginning of a meteoric rise. In 1964, the Under-Secretary of State for Finance called on him. Ten years later, he was Deputy Director General of the Department of Finance.

In 2006, at the age of eighty, José Ataz Hernandez (1927-2011) wanted to bear witness above all.

Here are his own words: “Neither I nor my brothers (one of whom is now a socialist), have ever had to reconcile with anyone because no one was ever against us. On the contrary, we have experienced in many cases, both discreet and anonymous, generosity and greatness of soul, which would be inconceivable today. An example: at my father’s funeral, Manolo Servet was present. Manolo was a friend of mine from the Youth Front, and my brother Joaquin’s workmate. He was the second son of Federico, the young provincial chief of the Falange of Murcia who had been sentenced to death with the participation of my father. When he approached me to offer his condolences and give me a hug, I had to make a superhuman effort not to start crying…”

[Testimony of José Ataz collected by Arnaud Imatz].

Arnaud Imatz, a Basque-French political scientist and historian, holds a State Doctorate (DrE) in political science and is a correspondent-member of the Royal Academy of History (Spain), and a former international civil servant at OECD. He is a specialist in the Spanish Civil War, European populism, and the political struggles of the Right and the Left – all subjects on which he has written several books. He has also published numerous articles on the political thought of the founder and theoretician of the Falange, José Antonio Primo de Rivera, as well as the Liberal philosopher, José Ortega y Gasset, and the Catholic traditionalist, Juan Donoso Cortés.

This article was translated from the original French by N. Dass.

The image shows a poster from the Spanish Civil War, with the famous slogan, “They Will Not Pass!”

Melchor Rodriguez: The Red Angel Of The Spanish Civil War

Relations between Anarchists and Marxist Socialists have always been marked by mistrust, suspicion, even hostility and hatred. In Spain, during the nearly three years of Civil War (1936-1939), they took a particularly dramatic turn. The rivalry between the two revolutionary currents quickly led to an open struggle that culminated in a small civil war within the Civil War.

In a somewhat schematic way, the choice between them may be summed up in this way. Either start the revolution right away, proceed immediately to collectivization, while making war. This solution was the preference of anarchists, Marxist-Leninists of the POUM and some of the trade unionists of the socialist UGT.

Or, on the contrary, temporarily favor the “sacred union” with the bourgeois left, so not to frighten the fellow-travelers, and especially the democracies, and first to win the war and postpone the social revolution. This a view was that of the Stalinist communists and their allies, the majority of the socialists.

This dispute, almost intractable, was temporarily settled by arms, to the advantage of the communists and their fellow-travelers. The bloody days of Barcelona (May 3-8, 1937) resulted in more than 500 deaths and 1,500 injuries.

But the anarchists never accepted communist rule. Nearly two years later, with the help of their social democratic, Trotskyist and anti-Stalinist allies, they took revenge in extremis. On the eve of the victory of the Francoist troops in March 1939, 150,000 soldiers, controlled by the CNT and led by Cipriano Mera, revolted and prevailed against the Communist Army Corps I, II and III.

After violent fighting, which claimed several thousand lives, the anarchists ensured the success of the coup against the pro-Stalinist government of the socialist Juan Negrín. Once the communists and their fellow-travelers were finally routed, and faced with increasing pressure from the National troops, the National Defense Council, composed of General Miaja, Colonel Casado, the Social Democrat Besteiro and seven other anarchist and anti-communist leaders, resolved to sign the surrender of the Republican camp.

One cannot understand the avatars of the Spanish People’s Front during the Civil War, without taking into account this fierce libertarian opposition to social-Marxist domination. In fact, once the republican, democratic and moderate left was completely whipped and marginalized, anarchists and anarcho-unionists were the only bulwark against despotism and Stalinist terror.

Examples of clashes and skirmishes between leaders, activists and sympathizers of the two major components of the revolutionary left abound. There is one, as emblematic as it is little known, which is particularly worth recalling. This is the conflict between the anarchist Melchor Rodriguez Garcia and the Secretary-General of the United Socialist Youth, responsible for public order in the Madrid Defence Committee (later secretary general of the PCE and co-founder of Eurocommunism), the Stalinist Santiago Carrillo.

Melchor Rodriguez Against Communist Terror

In early November 1936, in the midst of the civil war, Melchor Rodriguez was appointed Inspector General of Prisons by the People’s Front government. As such, he would work to prevent escapes but also prevent attacks and lynchings of detainees.

For some time now, communist militiamen and the Unified Socialist Youth (who were born on April 1, 1936, with the merger of the Communist Youth and the Socialist Youth) had made a habit of “visiting” Madrid’s jails. The pretext was to evacuate prisoners from the besieged capital to safety.

In reality, once the distant suburbs were reached, in the name of “popular justice: and “revolution,” the “fascist” enemies were ruthlessly liquidated. Faced with the indignant protests of foreign embassies, the authorities of the Popular Front finally got worried. This situation could no longer be tolerated.

Melchor Rodriguez was 43 years old when he took up his position as General Directorate of Prisons. A staunch anarcho-unionist, affiliated with the CNT and a member of the FAI, he was known for his courage, idealism and anti-communism. For three months, he successfully opposed the policy of terror, defended by communist leaders, and stopped the wave of crimes.

The Mass Graves of Santiago Carrillo

Melchor was born in Seville in 1893 to a working-class family of three children. He had been raised by his mother, an Andalusian woman who made a hard living as a cigar maker and seamstress. At the age of thirteen, he was already working as a boilermaker. Dreaming of becoming a bullfighter, he set out on an adventure on the roads of Spain as a teenager. Injured in the arena, in 1918, he had to give up his dream for good.

He was then found working as a metal worker in Madrid. Affiliated with the CNT, of which he was one of the representatives in the capital, his political and trade union activities were multiplying. From 1932, he was responsible for organizing aid to anarchist prisoners jailed by the Republic.

Appointed head of the prison administration in early November 1936, four months after the outbreak of the civil war, Melchor Rodriguez immediately saw his authority challenged by the Communists. Believing that he did not have the means to act, he resigned. Political assassinations then increased in intensity.

In Paracuellos, a village a few kilometers from Madrid, and in the surrounding area, in just over a month, nearly five thousand people were shot and buried in huge mass graves. All members and supporters of right-wing parties or “national forces” (radicals, Christian Democrats, Liberal-Conservatives, Agrarians, Nationalists, Monarchists and Falangists) were indiscriminately suspected of supporting the uprising.

Many victims had committed only one “crime” – attending a Catholic college, or belonging to a family of doctors or lawyers. The direct culprits of these appalling massacres are now known. They were the Socialist MP Margarita Nelken, the Director General of Security, the radical socialist, Manuel Muñoz, the Minister of the Interior, the socialist Angel Galarza, and, above all, the Secretary General of the Socialist and Communist Youth, Santiago Carrillo.

For decades, Santiago Carrillo vehemently denied any involvement in the Paracuellos massacre, systematically calling his accusers slanderers, fascist agents or Neo-Francoists historians. But his direct responsibility can no longer be seriously questioned. It was established by several irrefutable documents and testimonies: the statements of Melchor Rodriguez, the letter of July 30, 1937 from Dimitrov, head of the Komintern, to Voroshilov, informing him that Carrillo “gave the order to shoot,” the report of Dr. Henny, representative of the Red Cross, and the damning testimony of the Consul of Norway, Felix Schlayer, whose edifying memoir, which remained incomprehensibly in oblivion for sixty-ten years, was published under the title, Matanzas: en el Madrid republicano.

Santiago Carrillo, during the Civil War, was not the defender of democratic values, celebrated and honored today by the socialist media and much of the radical left. Santiago Carrillo was appointed Doctor Honoris Causa of the Autonomous University of Madrid on March 16, 2005, for his role in the Civil War and the democratic transition. To this day, Melchor Rodriguez’s life remains covered by the mantle of oblivion.

On the contrary, his Chekist methods and procedures make him one among those responsible for the most appalling populicide ever committed during the Spanish War. If there were a humanist and a true democrat at the time, it was certainly not the Stalinist in charge of the Public Order in Madrid – but, on the contrary, one of his fiercest opponents, strangely unknown and ignored, the anarchist, Melchor Rodriguez Garcia. A brief return to the facts makes this obvious.

On December 4, 1936, the government of the Popular Front confirmed the first appointment of Melchor Rodriguez. Full powers were granted to him by the Minister of Justice, Garcia Oliver, an anarchist like him.

Once appointed special delegate to the Directorate General of Prisons, neither Stalin’s envoys, General Gorev and diplomat Mikhail Kolstov, nor their allies, namely, the delegate to the Public Order, Santiago Carrillo or his collaborator, José Cazorla Maure, nor any other of their communist acolytes, could do anything against Melchor Rodriguez. In his eyes, there was no doubt that all these men “have disgraced the Republic.”

On 24 December, Carrillo lost his duties as a delegate to the Public Order. For three weeks, Melchor Rodriguez’s energetic action, often carried out at the risk of his own life, was decisive in stopping the massacres. Between December 4, 1936 and March 1, 1937, when the new government presided over by the pro-Stalinist socialist, Juan Negrín removed it, Madrid’s prisons were secured.

The most remarkable episode of Melchor Rodriguez’s life is undoubtedly the one that took place on December 8, 1936. After the bombing of Alcala airport, more than two hundred militiamen, furious, decided to take revenge on their hostages.

When the cells were forced, the “Red Angel,” a nickname he acquired on this occasion, intervened: “Before killing one of these prisoners, you will have to get past me!” He saved nearly 1000 people that day. The Member of Parliament for the CEDA (Confederation of Autonomous Rights), Alberto Martin Artajo, the Falangist leader, Raimundo Fernandez Cuesta and the future Commander-in-Chief of the Division Azul and Secretary-General of the Movimiento, Agustín Muñoz Grandes, owed him their lives.

Many would never forgive him for his humanist and generous attitude, which was unusual among his co-members of the FAI. For the communists, he was the “traitor,” “the agent of the fifth column,” the “cryptofascist.” In March 1939, in the capital besieged by Franco’s army, communist troops and those of their socialist allies were crushed by forces controlled by the CNT. Anarchists and Social Democrats prevailed just on the eve of the ceasefire.

The new National Defence Committee appointed Melchor Rodriguez as head of Madrid’s mayoralty. Faced with the advance of the national columns, there was a stampede. But the “Red Angel” refused to run away and remained at his post until the end. Judged and condemned by a Franco war council in November 1939, the numerous testimonies that were forthcoming, including that of General Muñoz Grandes, led to his release a year and a half later.

In the aftermath of the civil war, Melchor Rodriguez lived very modestly. An employee of an insurance company, he refused the economic aid offered to him. Intractable, he died true to his anarchist convictions. One day in 1973, he was found lying near his home, unconscious on the ground, with head injuries.

He was rushed to Francisco Franco Hospital. A friend, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Alberto Martin Artajo, who had esteemed and admired him for more than thirty years, immediately went to his bedside. The two men, whom so many things separated, spoke one last time.

The funeral took place in the presence of Francoist ministers, anarchist activists and survivors of the November and December 1936 massacres. On the coffin an anarchist flag and a crucifix were placed. Prayers rang out, followed by the anarchist anthem: “Negras tormentas agitan los aires.” The “Red Angel,” a symbol of national reconciliation, now rests in peace.

Is Reconciliation Still On The Agenda?

Many are surprised that the memory of Melchor Rodriguez, “the Spanish Schindler,” as some say, has not yet been officially honoured by democratic Spain and even (why not?) by the European Parliament. After all, the representatives of the majority of the political groups of the Standing Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, who for the most part have no idea what happened in Spain for more than a century, had not approved the March 17, 2006 resolution, at the instigation of the PSOE and against the advice of the PP, condemning the “undemocratic nature of Franco’s coup,” and yet proposed July 18 as an “international date of condemnation of Francoism?”

But is full reconciliation really on the agenda, as the official media, resolutely breaking with the desire for “forgiveness without forgetting” of previous decades, advocate with obsession and exclusivism a “recovery of historical memory,” which is known to be a propagandistic and emotional evocation of the past, unrelated to rigorous and serious history?

Arnaud Imatz, a Basque-French political scientist and historian, holds a State Doctorate (DrE) in political science and is a correspondent-member of the Royal Academy of History (Spain), and a former international civil servant at OECD. He is a specialist in the Spanish Civil War, European populism, and the political struggles of the Right and the Left – all subjects on which he has written several books. He has also published numerous articles on the political thought of the founder and theoretician of the Falange, José Antonio Primo de Rivera, as well as the Liberal philosopher, José Ortega y Gasset, and the Catholic traditionalist, Juan Donoso Cortés

The image shows a plaque at the house where Melchor Rodriguez was born.

This article was translated from the original French by N. Dass.

The Assassination Of José Calvo Sotelo: Prelude To The Spanish Civil War

Rather than trying to quell the rancor, the resentment and all the old hatreds, the leadership of the Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE) chose instead, in 2004, to revive the culture war and foment social unrest. The lamentable message repeated ad nauseam by the official media made it clear that since Spaniards were unable to overcome the past, the Transition and the spirit of reconciliation were only cowardice. This meant that the Spanish Civil War could not be discussed outside the presuppositions of those who regard themselves as being on the side of the good.

These suppositions are that the Right remained Francoist, if not outright fascist; that the Law of Amnesty of 1977 (the foundational act of the new democracy) was nothing other than a convenient way to protect the Francoists (despite the fact that this law was passed in the Legislature by a vote of 296 in favor, 2 opposed and 18 abstentions – in other words, with the support of the entire political class, including the PSOE and the Communist Party of Spain (PCE), with the exception of a handful of Liberal-Conservatives and Francoists. The purpose of this law was to eliminate punishment for the actions of anti-Francoist terrorists, such as, PCE(r)-GRAPO and ETA).

All these suppositions are nothing more than a tissue of false-assumptions, lies, and radically erroneous premises – all meant to foster a veritable fiction, with no connection to reality.

On December 26, 2007, PSOE got Parliament to pass a “Historical Memory Law,” which originated in a proposal introduced by the Communist Party (Izquierda Unida). It rightly recognized and expanded the rights of those who suffered persecution or violence during the Civil War and during the dictatorship. But at the same time, it promoted a Manichean vision of history. Strangely, it was adopted because of the indifference, and consent for the most part, of the political class of the EU – even though this law undermines the most basic right of freedom of expression.

One of the fundamental ideas of the Historical Memory Law is that Spanish democracy is a heritage of the Second Republic. This a highly questionable point of view, given the fact that the process of Transition was conducted in accordance with the mechanisms provided by the Franco-regime and was managed by a King, who was appointed by the generalissimo, and by his prime minister, a former General Secretary of the Movimiento – as well as the nearly unanimous consent of the Francoist political class. According to the subjective reasoning of this law, the Second Republic (the foundational myth of Spanish democracy, as per the Socialist Left and the extremists) – should have been a nearly perfect regime in which all the Leftist parties would act beyond reproach.

This law also offers a questionable amalgam of military uprising, the Civil War, and the dictatorship of Franco, even though all three are distinct facts, with their own relevant interpretations and varying judgments. In effect, this law exalts the victims and the murderers, the innocent and the guilty because they all belonged to the Popular Front and because they are of the Left. Thus, this law confuses those who died fighting in the war with the victims of the repression. Further, this law promotes and justifies any and all effort that seeks to demonstrate that Franco planned and systematically carried out a bloody repression during and after the Civil War – all the while implying that the government of the Republic, and the parties that supported it, had no repressive projects of their own. Finally, this law recognizes and legitimizes the desire of many people to be able to locate the bodies of their family members – but it also implicitly refuses this right to those who were with the Nationalists, under the doubtful pretext that such people had plenty of time to locate their dead ones during the Francoist era.

We may recall the “Garzón Affair,” or the “Graves of Francoism,” which particularly exacerbated tensions in 2006, given that the repression during the Civil War was equally ferocious and widespread in both the Republican and the Nationalist camps.

Judge Baltasar Garzón (friend of the socialists) claimed to undertake a sort of general inquisition, curiously reminiscent of the Causa General (General Cause), carried out by Franco’s Public Ministry, between 1940 and 1943, and which the Democratic Constitution of 1978 formally prohibited.

The current Prime Minister, Pedro Sánchez, faithful to the revanchist policies of his predecessor (the socialist, José Luís Rodríguez Zapatero), declared, as soon as he arrived at the Palace of Moncloa in 2018, that he would undertake to exhume, as quickly as possible, the remains of the dictator Franco, interred at the Basilica of the Valle de los Caídos (Valley of the Fallen).

Spain is still a nation of laws, with many men of the law who did not appreciate this behavior of the Chekists. The result was an endless judicial battle, which was finally decided by the political will of the Socialist government, on October 25 of this year (by way of a royal ordinance). The Basilica, in effect, is a religious place, whose inviolability is guaranteed by an international treaty signed between Spain and the Holy See in 1979. The Benedictines, who look after the monument, are not directly dependent on the Vatican, but on the authority of their abbot and the superior of their order, who is the abbot of Solesmes Abby.

But the improvised and sloppy drafting of this royal ordinance, adopted by the Sánchez government, was the source of other complications. No doubt given the notoriety of the name, Franco (a military man, a statesman and a polemical dictator), the national and international press omitted to mention that the application to the letter of this ordinance will also require the immediate exhumation of 19 Benedictine monks likewise interred in the Valley of the Fallen, along with 172 other persons who died after the end of the Civil War. As well, we do not know the fate of the body of José Antonio Primo de Rivera, imprisoned for three months before the uprising, but who was still condemned to death by a “People’s Court” for participating in the uprising. And we do not know what will happen to the thousands of bodies, from both sides, buried in the crypt, which are the object of so much controversy.

This judicial imbroglio was finally resolved by an authoritarian political measure, and by the use of the forces of law and order, just like totalitarian dictators and banana republics.

The study of the evolution of the concept of reconciliation in Spain, from 1939 to our own time, does merit a thesis. The irony is that the government of the socialist Sánchez defends to this day the exhumation of Franco, in the name of “justice and reconciliation,” and in a spirit that, after all, is not unlike that of the Caudillo (Franco) who expressed it in a decree of August 23, 1957, by which he established the Foundation of the Holy Cross of the Valley of the Fallen, at least if we put in parentheses the references pertaining to Christianity… “The Great Cross that presides over and inspires the monument, also gives it a profoundly Christian character… Thus, the sacred obligation of honoring our heroes and our martyrs must also carry with it the feeling of forgiveness, imposed by the Gospel message… It must be the monument of all the dead in battle, over whose sacrifice triumph the peaceful arms of the Cross.”

To this, on May 23, 1958, Alonso Vega, the Minister of the Interior, in a directive to civil governors, added that “this is to give a place of burial to all those were sacrificed for God and for Spain, with no distinction of the two sides that fought each other, like the spirit of pardon that the creation of this monument has now imposed.”

But there is this substantial difference – through the magic of the inevitable words of political propaganda, the good and the evil have changed sides. And it is precisely this moral hemiplegia which the Founding Fathers of the Transition and of Spanish democracy rejected in its entirety.

A few year ago, Ian Gibson, an Irish “historian,” with strong socialist convictions, declared that he was in favor of placing a bomb in the Valle de los Caídos and destroying the monument. Such European fanatics, whose concepts of justice and reconciliation are certainly worthy of the Afghan Taliban who destroyed the Buddhas of Bamiyan, are unfortunately not rare. They would certainly make us despair for humanity, were it not for strong personalities, in their own circles, who keep them in their place. One of the players of the Transition, the socialist Felipe Gonzáles, declared in 1985, when he was Prime Minister: “We must accept our history…I am personally able to face the history of Spain… Franco… is in it… Never would I get the idea of toppling one statue of Franco. Never! I think it’s stupid going about pulling down statues of Franco… Franco now belongs to the History of Spain. We cannot erase History… I have always thought that if anyone believes that it is meritorious to knock Franco from his horse, then he should have done that when the man was alive” (Juan Luis Cebrian, “Interview with Felipe González,” El Pais, Madrid, November 17, 1985).

This is to say that a socialist government deciding to move the body of a Catholic, monarchist, conservative, anti-Marxist and anti-Communist dictator may perhaps be explained, but it cannot be understood. As we know, peace around the graves of revolutionaries and dictators is extremely rare. Unless I am mistaken, to this day, there are only two or three great exceptions (admirable for their serenity and their respect for the dead), which refute this immutable rule: In Russia, the mausoleum of Lenin in Red Square, and the Kremlin Wall Necropolis, where Stalin is buried; and in France, the tomb of Napoleon I in the Invalides.

But behind this desire to exhume the ashes of Franco and to officially condemn his actions and his regime, there hides an important question, which is very thorny and very embarrassing for the powers that be – namely, the interpretation of the origins of the Civil War, which only highlights the considerable responsibility of the PSOE. Therefore, let us recall some well-established facts.

Both on the Right and the Left, the proclamation of the Spanish Republic, in 1931, was greeted with hope. But disillusionment quickly set in. In bringing about democracy and “progress,” Spain fell into disorder and anarchy. In October 1934, the PSOE, whose leadership had been entirely Bolshevized since 1933, deliberately triggered a general strike in all of Spain, which the police managed to contain, with the exception of Catalonia and especially the Asturias. In February 1936, the fragile victory of the Popular Front put an end to the chaos. In June 1936, in a speech to the Legislature (which was immediately declared to be a “catastrophe” by opponents), José Maria Gil Robles, leading light of the moderate Right, tallied in four months 353 attacks, 269 political murders, and the destruction of 160 churches.

According to Communist historiography, popularized by the Komintern, which is now regarded as canonical, or at least “politically correct,” this terrible tragedy was the direct result of a military coup d’état against a perfectly democratic and progressive regime. Then the army, backed by a handful of fascists, rose against the people who were defenseless, but who resisted courageously and drove back the rebels. Finally, it is said, Franco could not have won had it not been for the help of Germany and fascist Italy.

Along with the collaboration of several of the best specialists on this subject, I believe that I have demonstrated in my book, La guerre d’Espagne revisitée, and again in the special issue of La Nouvelle Revue d’Histoire (1936-2006: “La guerre d’Espagne,” no. 25, July 2006) – that this Communist legend or mythology does not correspond whatsoever to the reality of facts. The American historian, Stanley Payne, a great expert on the subject, brought forward precise, rigorous and dispassionate answers that are all-too-often ignored and passed over in France, in his book, La Guerre d’Espagne. L’Histoire face à la confusion mémorielle, to which I wrote the Preface.

Further, this one single fact will suffice to refute, or at least lend nuance to, the premise of the military uprising against democracy: The great intellectuals of the time, the Founding Fathers of the Republic, Ortega y Gasset, Marañon and Perez de Ayala, and let us not forget Unamuno – they all unreservedly voted for the National side, and against the Communist, Socialist-Marxist and anarchist extremism of the Popular Front.

Among the numerous myths that could be mentioned here, for lack of space, I shall make note of only two, which were recently deconstructed. First, the victory of the Popular Front in the elections of February 1936, and the reasons and conditions for the assassination of José Calvo Sotelo.

The question of whether the elections of February 1936 were regular or irregular, legitimate or illegitimate, legal or illegal, democratic or anti-democratic never ceases to foment debate. But in 2017, a crucial piece was added as evidence. It is the work of two historians at King Juan Carlos University, namely, 1936, Fraude y violencía en las elecciones del Frente popular (1936: Fraud and Violence in the Elections of the Popular Front) by Roberto Villa García and Manuel Álvarez Tardío.

After a long and careful study, these two researchers have shown, in a manner both rigorous and incontestable, that the frauds, falsifications, manipulations and violence of the Frente Popular (the Popular Front) were of a considerable magnitude. In the aftermath of the voting, the Frente Popular claimed 240 seats (out of 473), but deliberately stole 50 from the right-wing opposition. Without this plundering – a veritable parliamentary coup d’état – it could never have governed alone. The institutions of the Republic were deliberately violated; and it is perfectly right to question the legitimacy of the government of the Spanish Popular Front.

The assassination of Calvo Sotelo, which was the prelude to the Civil war, is in itself another good illustration of the reality of facts. José Calvo Sotelo, at 43 years of age, was one of the most eminent figures in the Spanish conservative right. He was a member of the monarchist party (the Renovación Española), contributor to the intellectual revue, Accíon Española, and a former minister of the economy and finance. A courageous and eloquent parliamentarian, he attracted all the hate of the Popular Front. His speeches had a profound impact on public opinion, so much so that Santiago Cesares Quiroga, head of government and minister of defense, did not hesitate to openly threaten him in the full sitting of the Legislature on June 16, 1936.

The response of the future victim is now legendary: “Mr. Cesares Quiroga, I have broad shoulders. You are a man quick to challenge and threaten… I take full note of your warning… I will answer you as Saint-Dominique de Silos did to the King of Castille, ‘Lord, all you can do is take my life and nothing more.’ Better to die with honor than to live without dignity.”

On June 23, 1936, Calvo Sotelo was again threatened in the columns of the Madrid newspaper, El Socialista. Then, in the evening of July 12, the Lieutenant of the Assault Guard, José del Castillo, instructor of the militias of the Young Socialists, was assassinated, in reprisal for the murders of José Luis Llaguno, a Carlist student and Andrés Saenz de Heredia, who was the cousin of José Antonio Primo de Rivera. The Assault Guard was a special police force that was highly politicized. At their barracks in Pontejos, the comrades of Lieutenant del Castillo shouted for revenge. These were men, for the most part, who were also close confidantes of the government. Chief among them were Major Ricardo Burillo Stholle, Lieutenant Maximo Moreno, and Captain of the Civil Guard, Fenando Condès. The last two had already actively participated in the attempted socialist uprising against the Republic in October of 1934.

On July 13, 1936, around two o’clock in the morning, vehicle No. 17 of the Assault Guards left the barracks at Pontejos. Sitting inside it were eight Assault Guards, and four hired men of the Socialist Party, under the command of Captain Fernando Condès. They were all in civilian clothes.

A few minutes later, a second commando unit rolled out into the night whose job it was to eliminate the other great leader of the right, Gil-Robles, who was head of CEDA (a coalition of the conservative-right, liberals and Christian-democrats). Luckily, he was in Biarritz at the time, and so, miraculously, he escaped death.

Vehicle No. 17 went on its way towards Vélasquez Street, where the house of Calvo Sotelo was located. It stopped in front of number 89. Captain Condès and several of his men got out. They summoned the night watchman to open the door to the building, and he did so. The Guards went up the stairs, rang at the door of the Monarchist Deputy and demanded entry, under the pretext of a search. Awakened by the noise, Calvo Sotelo opened the door.

Quickly the Guards rushed into the apartment and cut the telephone. Captain Condès asked the politician to come with him to the Security Directorate. Calvo Sotelo was wary. A deputy could not be arrested, unless caught red-handed actually committing a crime. It would be necessary to call the Directorate General of Security, but the telephone did not work. His wife tried to go out to get help. The Guards stopped her. The resistance of the leader of the National Bloc was mollified by the assurances given on the Captain’s honor. Calvo Sotelo got dressed, then kissed his children in their beds and his wife to whom he promised that he would telephone as soon as possible, “unless these gentlemen are taking me away to put four bullets into me.”

He got into the bus. He sat down on the third seat, flanked by two Assault Guards. Behind him stood Luís Cuenca Estevas, a known bodyguard of the Socialist leader, Indalecio Prieto. Captain Condès took a seat behind the driver. The others went and sat at the back. The vehicle headed off and went only as far as about 200 meters, when at the top of the intersection of Ayala and Vélasquez streets, Luis Cuenca took out a pistol, pointed it at the back of Calvo Sotelo’s neck and fired twice, killing him instantly. (According to other sources, the killer was Maximo Moreno, the Lieutenant of the Assault Guard). The body of the victim collapsed between the seats.

Unperturbed, the driver went down the road. At the crossroads of Vélasquez and Alcalá streets, a truck full of Assault Guards entered the flow of traffic. But for vehicle No. 17, the way was open. With their murderous mission accomplished, and having returned to the barracks at Pontejos, the assassins reported to their leader, Lieutenant-Colonel Sanchez Plaza. Downstairs, Guard Tomas Pérez removed bloodstains from inside the vehicle.

The wife of Calvo Sotelo had not sat idle. She immediately got in touch with her family and her loved ones. To all of their demands, the Directorate General of Security and the Minister of the Interior invariably replied: “Nothing has happened… There is nothing at any police station.”

On the morning of July 13, the identification of a body dumped at the Eastern Cemetery roused disbelief and outrage. While the Socialist, Indalecio Prieto, demanded that arms be distributed to all “workers” organizations, funeral arrangements were made for the following day to be held before an enormous crowd.

The judicial investigation was hurriedly buried. The Civil War put a stop to any remaining pretense of legality.

On July 25, 1936, at 12:45 PM, in broad daylight, a dozen members of the militia of the Popular Front, entered the buildings of the Ministry of the Interior, led by a man in civilian clothing. Inside the office of the judge charged with investigating the case, they seized by force all the records and files pertaining to the assassination, and took everything away. Thus disappeared all documents relating to the inquiry, including the scientific evidence of the medical examiners, and the reports of the interrogation of the chief suspects.

Most of those involved with the murder were rewarded after the uprising. For a good number of historians, the elimination of Calvo Sotelo is nothing more than revenge for the assassination of José del Castillo. But this explanation, partial and inadequate, has now been thoroughly questioned (in 2018) by the former Secretary General of the PSOE of Galicia, namely, Francisco Vázquez Vázquez, the Deputy, Senator and Mayor of A Coruña (see, “Memoria histórica de Calvo Sotelo,” ABC, April 9, 2018). Indeed, the shock produced in public opinion by the news of the elimination of a leader of the political opposition is completely incommensurate with any emotions stirred up by the murder of a Lieutenant-Instructor of the Assault Guard.

Vázquez, a well-known and respected politician, provided the original report – never before published because it had been lost – of a declaration made before a judge by one of who was directly involved with the assassination. This is the statement of Blas Estebarán Llorente, the driver of the ambulance-van that was responsible for transporting the body to the Eastern Cemetery. We learn in this crucial testimony that the militias of the Socialist Party, then under the direction of all the principal leaders of the movement, had planned the assassinations of Calvo Sotelo, José Maria Gil Robles, and the monarchist, Antonio Goicoechea at least three months earlier. Also implicated in the plot were Jésus Hernández, the Communist leader and future Minister of Education during the Civil War, and a certain Antonio López. Then, Blas Estebarán went on to state that, as ordered by the Security Directorate, he met the vehicle at the top of Manuel Becerra Place, and that he followed it, before parking and taking charge of the corpse, which he took to the Eastern Cemetery.

The assassination of Calvo Sotelo became the detonator of the national insurrection of July 18, 1936. Conspirators had already been at work well before this terrible political crime, and the uprising would likely have taken place regardless of this assassination. But the shock of this event made a decisive contribution towards smoothing out the difficulties and dissipating the doubts of the conspirators. It accelerated the preparations and imposed a definite day and hour. It considerably increased popular sympathy for, and participation in, the plans of the military. Because of this crime, hatched and covered up by the State, it is clear that all the adversaries of the Popular Front felt themselves in danger of being killed. As Gil Robles said in Parliament, “Half of Spain will not agree to being killed.”

One of the major observers of the time, Julián Zugazagoitia, a minister of the Popular Front, told one of his visitors, “This attack is war.”

We cannot repeat this enough – it is not the military uprising of July 1936 that is origin of the destruction of democracy, as the leaders of the PSOE nowadays claim. On the contrary, it was because democratic legality was destroyed by the Popular Front that the uprising began. In 1936, no one, neither Left nor Right, believed in liberal democracy as it exists today. The revolutionary myth believed by the entire Left is that of an armed struggle. The anarchists and the Communist Party did not believe in democracy. The vast majority of socialists and most notably their leader, the very prominent, Largo Caballero (the “Spanish Lenin), who advocated the dictatorship of the proletariat and rapprochement with the Communists, also did not believe in democracy.

From this, we can conclude that the army of 1936, like Spanish society itself, was very divided, while both sides (the Left and the Right) enjoyed powerful popular support. If the legend fabricated by Spanish and Soviet propagandists of the Frente Popular is indeed correct, then there would have been no civil war because the army, entirely unified, would have risen up and the Nationals (not “nationalists” as they are always and erroneously called in France) would have had victory within 48 hours. And if the people all had been on one side, then the Frente Popular and its allies would have easily won. But it was not so.

Arnaud Imatz, a Basque-French political scientist and historian, holds a State Doctorate (DrE) in political science and is a correspondent-member of the Royal Academy of History (Spain), and a former international civil servant at OECD. He is a specialist in the Spanish Civil War, European populism, and the political struggles of the Right and the Left – all subjects on which he has written several books. He has also published numerous articles on the political thought of the founder and theoretician of the Falange, José Antonio Primo de Rivera, as well as the Liberal philosopher, José Ortega y Gasset, and the Catholic traditionalist, Juan Donoso Cortés.

This article was translated from French by N. Dass.

The photo shows a portrait of José Calvo Sotelo at the Bank of Spain.

Franco, Freed From Leftist Myths

Few Americans know much about Francisco Franco, leader of the winning side in the Spanish Civil War and subsequently dictator of Spain. Yet from 1936 until 1975, he was a famous world figure. Now he is forgotten—but not by all. Franco is, and has been for decades, a cause célèbre among the global Left, seen as the devil incarnate for his successful war against Communist domination of Spain.

To successfully delay, or worse, block, any Left attempt to establish their permanent rule, thereby revealing that history lacks a progressive direction, is the unforgivable sin. Naturally, therefore, my own impression of Franco was generally favorable. But after reading up on him, my impression of him has changed. Now it is positively glowing.

It is very difficult to grasp the controversial figures of the past century. By “controversial,” I mean right-wing, since no prominent left-wing figure is ever deemed, in the common imagination formed by the left-wing dominance of academia and media, to be “controversial.” Instead, such people are “bold” or “courageous.”

The only way to get at the truth about a right-wing figure is to absorb a great many facts about him. It doesn’t matter much if the facts are slanted, or are disputed, or even if lies are told, as they always are about any right-wing figure. Reading enough detail allows the truth to come into focus, which mostly means ferreting out where the Left is lying or where one’s impression has been formed by propaganda or half-truths.

Even though facts matter most, the first thing to do when reading a book about any right-wing figure, or any event or happening important to the Left, is to check the political angle of the author, to know the likely slant. Somewhat surprisingly, most recent popular English-language general histories of the Spanish Civil War are only modestly tilted Left.

The best-known is that by Hugh Thomas (recently deceased and a fantastic writer, mostly on Spain’s earlier history), which I’ve read; Antony Beevor, specialist in popularized histories of twentieth-century war, also wrote one, which I have skimmed. Several others exist, and voluminous Spanish-language literature, as well, about which I know essentially nothing other than as cited in English-language texts.

Reading biographies of Franco, rather than histories of the Civil War, pulls back the lens to see Spain across the first three-quarters of the twentieth century, not just in the years between 1936 and 1939. Any history revolving around Franco in that period is necessarily both a history of Spain and the history of Left-Right conflict.

This is useful because my purpose is not just to understand Franco, although that’s interesting enough, but what Franco and his times say for our times. While my initial intention was just to read one biography, it quickly became clear that more detail would allow more clarity. I deemed this amount of effort important because I think the Spanish experience in the twentieth century has a lot to say to us.

Therefore, I selected three biographies. The first was Franco: A Personal and Political Biography, published in 2014, by Stanley Payne, a professor at the University of Wisconsin. Payne has spent his entire long career writing many books on this era of Spain’s history, and he is also apparently regarded as one of the, if not the, leading experts on the typology of European fascism. Payne’s treatment of Franco is straight up the middle, neither pro nor con, and betrays neither a Left nor Right bias—although, to be sure, a straightforward portrait contradicts the Left narrative, and thus can be seen as effectively tilted Right, whatever the author’s actual intentions.

The second was Spanish historian Enrique Moradiellos’s 2018 Franco: Anatomy of a Dictator, a shorter treatment generally somewhat negative with respect to Franco.

The third, Franco: A Biography, was by Paul Preston, a professor at the London School of Economics, who like Payne is an expert in twentieth-century Spain. Unlike Payne, or Moradiellos, he is an avowed political partisan, of the Left, and his 1993 biography of Franco is vituperative, but it was also the first major English-language study of Franco, and is regarded as a landmark achievement offering enormous detail, even if it is superseded in some ways by later scholarship.

Preston also published, in 2012, the dubiously named, The Spanish Holocaust, analyzing through a hard-Left lens the killings of the Civil War, which I have read in part and to which I will also refer.

In addition, I have consulted a variety of other books, including Julius Ruiz’s recent work on the Red Terror in Madrid, and repeatedly viewed the five-hour 1983 series The Spanish Civil War, produced in the United Kingdom and narrated by Frank Finlay, available on YouTube, which while it has a clear left-wing bias, offers interviews with many actual participants in the war.

Unlike my usual technique, which is to review individual books and use them as springboards for thought, I am trying something new. I am writing a three-part evaluation of twentieth-century Spain, through a political lens, in which I intend to sequentially, but separately, focus on three different time periods.

First, the run-up to the Civil War. Second, the war itself, mainly with respect to its political, not military, aspects, and its immediate aftermath. Third, Franco’s nearly forty years as dictator, and the years directly after.

Using multiple books from multiple political angles will highlight areas of contradiction or dispute, and allow tighter focus on them. True, I have not read any actually pro-Franco books—I would, but, as Payne notes, there are no such English-language books, though he mentions several in Spanish.

The American (and English) Right has always been very reticent about any endorsement of Franco. Part of this is the result of ignorance combined with the successful decades-long propaganda campaign of the Left. If you’re ill-informed, it’s easy to lump Franco in with Hitler, or if you’re feeling charitable, Mussolini, and who wants to associate himself with them?

Part of it is the inculcated taste for being a beautiful loser, on sharp display for some reason among modern English conservatives, not only Peter Hitchens in his book The Abolition of Britain but also Roger Scruton in How To Be A Conservative. But a bigger part, I think, is distaste for the savagery of civil wars, combined with the feeling that Christians should not kill their enemies, except perhaps in open battle in a just war.

On the surface, this seeming pacifism appears to be a standard thread of Christian thought. But examined more closely, it is actually a new claim, since the contested dividing line has always been if and under what circumstances killing in self-defense is permitted. Whether the killing occurs in the heat of battle is a mere happenstance, now incorrectly elevated by some on the Right to the core matter, probably as a backdoor way of limiting killing by the state. The effect, though, is to repudiate killing in self-defense outside of battle, even by the authorities, ignoring the admonition of Saint Paul, that the ruler “beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.”

Competently illustrating this weak-kneed and incoherent line of thought among the modern Right, Peter Hitchens wrote a recent piece in First Things about Franco. Hitchens was, in fact, also reviewing Moradellios’s book, and his review exquisitely demonstrates this intellectual confusion and theological incoherence.

He goes on at great length about the evils of the Republicans and how their victory would have been disastrous for Spain. But then he goes on at greater length telling us that Christians cannot look to Franco, because he committed “crimes,” none of which are specified in the review (or, for that matter, in the book being reviewed), probably because to specify them would make them seem not very crime-like.

We must therefore reject Franco, Hitchens tells us, for an unspecified alternative that was most definitely not on offer in 1936, and is probably not going to be on offer if, in the future, we are faced with similar circumstances.

This is foolishness. (It is not helped by Hitchens’s self-focus and his repeated attempts to establish his own personal intellectual superiority, sniffing, for example, that Franco watched television and “had no personal library,” though if Hitchens had read Payne, he would know that was because the Republicans destroyed it in 1936). And Hitchens whines that Franco “hardly ever said or wrote anything interesting in his life,” which is false (and if true would be irrelevant), though in part explained by Franco’s oft-repeated dictum that “One is a slave to what one says but the owner of one’s silence.”

Hitchens squirms a bit, though, when he (at least being intellectually honest) quotes Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s ringing endorsement of Franco. “I saw that Franco had made a heroic and colossal attempt to save his country from disintegration. With this understanding there also came amazement: there had been destruction all around, but with firm tactics Franco had managed to have Spain sidestep the Second World War without involving itself, and for twenty, thirty, thirty-five years, had kept Spain Christian against all history’s laws of decline! But then in the thirty-seventh year of his rule he died, dying to a chorus of nasty jeers from the European socialists, radicals, and liberals.”

Hitchens, for no stated reason, seems to think that Moradiellos’s book proves Solzhenitsyn wrong, when the exact opposite is the case. Hitchens even ascribes Solzhenitsyn’s praise to “infatuation on the rebound,” whatever that means, though the quote is from the late 1970s (from the recently released autobiography, Between Two Millstones), long after Solzhenitsyn’s experiences in the Gulag.

Probably realizing how weak his argument is, Hitchens then switches gears without acknowledging it, dropping the “crimes” line and claiming that since Franco’s work was all undone rapidly after his death, Franco was bad. Which is even more intellectually sieve-like.

The lack of mental rigor in this line of thought can be seen if we switch the focus from Franco to any one of scores of Christian heroes of the past. Once you leave Saint Francis of Assisi behind, any Christian military hero plucked at random from the pages of history did far worse things to his enemies, and often to his friends, than Franco.

Try Charlemagne. Or Saint Louis IX. Or Richard II Lionheart. Or El Cid. Or Don Juan of Austria. All wars fought to decide ultimate questions are unpleasant and involve acts that endanger the souls of men. It is merely the proximity of Franco to us in time, combined with the lack of steel that has affected many Christians for decades now, that makes Hitchens shrink from endorsing Franco and his deeds, all his deeds.

In two hundred years if, God willing, the Left and its Enlightenment principles are nothing but a faded memory and a cautionary tale, Hitchens’s complaints will seem utterly bizarre, like a belief that the Amazons were real. Would I care to stand in Franco’s shoes before the judgment seat of Christ? Not particularly. But I am far from certain that it would be an uncomfortable position.

Several events appear in every history of the Spanish Civil War. Among these are the 1930 Jaca revolt; the 1934 Asturias Rebellion; and the 1937 bombing of Guernica.

In astronomy, there is the concept of “standard candles.” These are stars of a known luminosity, whose distance can be accurately calculated, and against which other celestial objects can then be measured. I think of events that regularly recur in histories as standard candles: happenings about which certain facts are not in dispute, but which different authors approach differently, either by emphasizing or omitting certain facts.

By examining each author’s variations, we can measure him against the standard candles, determining, to some degree, whether his history is objective, or a polemic, in which latter case its reliability becomes suspect.

The Run-Up

For many Americans, the thought of historical Spain conjures up images of ships carrying gold across the ocean, or for the literary and somewhat confused, Don Quixote riding with his lance across a dusty plain. But in 1892, Spain was a country with no gold and no knights, though plenty of farmers. Franco was born in that year into a naval family, when the Spanish military, and particularly the navy, had also fallen far from its former glory (in part the result of recent defeat by America in the Spanish-American War).

Not a promising physical specimen, he enrolled as an infantry cadet at fourteen. He asked to be posted to Spanish Morocco, the only place Spain had any fighting military, and went there at nineteen, quickly establishing himself as a courageous, unflappable leader of men, as well as a disciplinarian and martinet.

Franco asked for the most dangerous assignments (of the forty-two officers assigned to the “shock” troops in 1912, only seven were alive by 1915), and his mostly Muslim soldiers were in superstitious awe of his luck. His luck wasn’t perfect—he was gut shot by a machine gun, and only survived because the bullet happened to miss all his organs, a most unlikely event. But even that contributed to Franco’s reputation, and to his own later belief in his providential mission.

All this brought much attention from the prominent, including the King, Alfonso XIII (Spain was a parliamentary monarchy at the time), and rapid promotion. Although Spain was politically in turmoil during these years, Franco (like most officers in the Spanish military) was strictly non-political. He married in 1923 (and unlike most men of power, was unfailingly faithful to his wife his entire life). Continuing his service in Morocco, he was promoted to general in 1926, at thirty-three the youngest general in Europe—though by European standards, he had little modern war experience.

He never commanded more than a brigade, and experienced only relatively primitive warfare with relatively primitive weapons, since the Spanish military was never well-equipped. After being promoted, he “retired” from combat, becoming director of Spain’s main military academy, until 1931.

It was toward the end of this period that politics became impossible for Franco to ignore. In 1930, the Spanish left-wing parties all managed to ally under the Pact of San Sebastián, collectively adopting the label “Republican” to denote their left-wing goals, a nomenclature that stuck, and agreeing to overthrow the monarchy by any means necessary.

This is the origin of the term Republican as denoting one side in the Civil War; it means both revolutionary leftist and necessarily exclusionary of any non-left parties, rather than being derived from “republican,” meaning devoted to representative government. (For this reason, Payne uses the terms “Republican” and “revolutionary” interchangeably in his book.) Even among this group of Leftists, there was a range of opinion (ignoring the outlier viewpoint of the Catalan separatists, who were also involved).

The key principle, as with all such groupings, was that there could be no enemies to the Left, and no compromise with the Right; total power to the Left and the disenfranchisement of the Right was the permanent goal.

After the dictatorship of Miguel Primo de Rivera, which lasted from 1923 to 1930, was succeeded by the even softer dictatorship of Dámaso Berenguer, the Republicans quickly initiated their first political violence, a small military revolt, the “Jaca revolt.” The revolt was put down quickly, but not before the Republican rebels had killed several other soldiers who refused to join them. (One of the Republicans involved, though not in the killing, was Franco’s brother Ramón, a political radical who fled Spain as a result, but who returned later to fight for Franco, and died in the war).

As Payne notes, “These totally unprovoked killings opened the steadily accelerating cycle of leftist violence in Spain that would eventually bring civil war.” That was the goal, naturally—one theme of Payne is that the Left wanted civil war, figuring they would win and that would cement their power permanently, since, as Moradiellos points out, Spain was not only sharply divided, but without any group having notably more power than the others, such that the result was political deadlock without some deus ex machina.

The Jaca revolt is revealing, and usable as a standard candle, because as the earliest such event, it begins to show the pattern of ideological distortion found in different histories. At least in the mainstream, English-language works I have read, there is little dispute as to facts.

But what you find is that the left-leaning authors, Preston in particular, solve the problem of inconvenient facts by simply omitting them. So, here, Preston never mentions that the rebels killed anyone; they were unjustly executed as “mutineers,” and their subsequent adulation as Republican martyrs is portrayed as entirely reasonable.

In 1931, the monarchy ended and the Second Republic was declared. This wasn’t the result of any democratic process, but the result of the total collapse of support for the monarchy from its traditional supporters at the same time the Republicans had prepared to seize power, combined with the King’s unwillingness to risk civil war. In practice, the first government of the Second Republic was merely the self-named “revolutionary committee” of the Republicans.

But despite these unpromising beginnings, and the open participation of many anti-democratic, revolutionary elements, the Second Republic managed, at the beginning, to be actually republican, more liberal than leftist, though there were plenty of leftist actions taken, most prominently open violence against the Church and extensive anti-religious legal measures, along with open persecution of the religious.

Preston ignores all this, referring instead to the “hysteria” (one of his favorite words) of anyone opposed to leftist hegemony. Still, as Payne notes, the first Republican government, under the “left Republican” Prime Minister Manuel Azaña, “held that the Republic must be a completely leftist regime under which no conservative party or coalition could be accepted as a legitimate government, even in the remote possibility that one were democratically elected. . . . Such an attitude made the development of a genuinely liberal democratic regime almost impossible.”

To anyone paying attention, this is merely the usual tactic of the Left—the ratchet must only go one way. It can go Left, but however far Left it goes, it can never go any less Left, no matter how many democratic votes the Right gets. If the Right threatens to disturb the ratchet, violence is the acceptable solution to keep Left dominance.

Until recently, this was a purely Continental phenomenon; its most recent manifestations have shown up in France (with the National Rally, what was the Front National) and in Sweden (with the Sweden Democrats). Since 2017, it has shown up in the United States, as a reaction to Donald Trump daring to actually try to govern in a conservative fashion, something no Republican had tried to do since Calvin Coolidge.

The same beginning low-level violence led by the Left against the Right is already in evidence here, as well, unfortunately (as well as occasional higher-level political violence, such as James Hodgkinson’s attempted assassination of the Republican Congressional leadership, which has been memory-holed by the Left using its control of the media—one difference between then and now, as I discuss below, is that the Left now controls far more of the levers of power).

Political violence was the new norm in 1930s Spain. Payne estimates that nearly 2,500 lives were lost to political violence from 1931 until the beginning of the Civil War in 1936. Most of those people were killed by the Left, but not all, and both sides tended to dehumanize the other side, though again the Left led here—as Payne notes, early on one of the favorite Republican words was “extermination.”

Here again, we see this type of language rising on the mainstream American Left—last month Democratic freshman Representative Ilhan Omar, the bigoted new flower child of American progressives, publicly referred to Donald Trump as “not human,” and prominent Democrat Paul Begala publicly called Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner “cockroaches” and “a different kind of species,” in both cases without any apology or consequences.

One might object, if one were a Leftist offended by the truth, that there is also right-wing political violence in America today, adducing, say, Dylann Roof killing black church parishioners in 2015, or, stretching abroad, last month’s killing of mosque worshippers in New Zealand. You have to draw a pretty big circle to claim those killers are “right-wing,” but it’s not totally implausible. They certainly weren’t left-wing, in any reasonable read of their confused politics.

Still, the “political” angle, and tie to concrete politics, of Hodgkinson was far more evident. But the key difference, that makes right-wing high-profile attacks different, is that Hodgkinson was part of the ecosystem of the Left, and the right-wing killers were not part of the ecosystem of the Right.

Such killers being part of the Left ecosystem is a necessary consequence of the mandatory Left principle that there are no enemies to the Left; you cannot plausibly maintain both that principle and that you are not responsible for fringe actions, and Hodgkinson was merely following the very many open calls for violence after Trump’s election by progressive leaders, none of whom even thought once about apologizing or trying to dial back their violent rhetoric afterwards. (In the Spanish context there was even less ambiguity—all Left violence was an acknowledged part of the Left program; the question was only whether any particular act was prudent).

On today’s American Right, which aggressively polices its borders (probably too aggressively), there is no legitimate claim that the Right in general is responsible for fringe actions. Which is not to say that, with the Internet and the persecution of conservatives, that such fringe actions will not occur more often, as sociopaths seek meaning and transcendence through violence.

Naturally, the Leftist media inverts this reality, without any claim to logic or reason, in order to attack the Right and wholly excuse the Left. In the fevered imaginations of the Left, or so they claim, murderous white supremacists, for example, are key and important components of the American Right.

But the true reality is inevitable and inescapable. Just as inescapable is leftist propaganda and lies, for exaggerating right-wing violence and demanding a response from the Right is both a successful way to ask a “have you stopped beating your wife?” question and a way to avoid talking about the evils of the Left. They offer not reasoning or argument, but shrieks that the Right must abase itself and surrender for no apparent reason other than that it is desired by the Left. The correct response is simply to refuse to engage in such discussions, and instead demand the Left clean its own stables.

However, this entire analysis is somewhat beside the point, because it ignores that high-profile political violence, whether of Hodgkinson or Roof, is not the core of political violence today. Such violence may be, as it became in Spain, the main event. But today the core of political violence is rather the daily violence visited exclusively today by the American Left on the Right, on the streets, in restaurants, and in schools. And that core is what will, and should, cause a justified reaction on the Right, at which point violence will likely become part of the ecosystem of both Left and Right, though the fault will lie primarily with the Left, as always.

Anyway, back in Spain and eighty years ago, the Azaña government also immediately implemented another inexorable feature of leftist rule, the legal prosecution of their political opponents—in this case, those who served under the monarchy during the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera, and those involved in prosecuting the “Jaca martyrs.”

The euphemism for this was the “responsibilities program.” (Yet again, we see this occurring in the United States, with the witch hunt against Trump and his associates, and when the Democrats regain executive power, we will doubtless see an enormous explosion of such prosecutions, as well as a growing number of state-level attacks, both of which grew lushly under Obama).

Some military men fell before these attacks, but Franco, although he was prominent, was well known to never engage in politics, so he was not attacked. Still, he was demoted and ostracized by the new government, which (correctly) saw that his basic orientation was conservative.

Franco took no part whatsoever, however, in the failed 1932 revolt led by General José Sanjurjo, subsequent to which the Republicans arrested thousands of conservatives and closed hundreds of newspapers, and continued their policy of blocking conservative political meetings and generally obstructing Right political action, though Sanjurjo himself escaped, to play a part in the Civil War. (Such activity has its modern parallel in the shutting down of conservative speeches across the nation, by violence with government complicity, and the massive and expanding coordinated deplatforming of conservatives from the public utilities that are the main method of communication in America today).

Seen, therefore, as generally reliable, Franco was appointed commander of the strategic Balearic Islands, where, in his leisure time, he began to become more politicized, though not visibly. The main targets of his ire were a perceived conspiracy among Freemasons, big business, and finance capital, which, if you leave out the Freemasons, makes him not dissimilar to Tucker Carlson. (Anti-Semitism was not part of this; Franco was not, then or later, in the least anti-Semitic as an ideological position, and probably no more personally anti-Semitic than, say, Franklin Roosevelt).

A new center-right party, the CEDA, gained political ground. In the 1933 elections, in a trial run for 1936, violence was used to suppress the CEDA vote, and when the CEDA got the most votes and was the largest party in parliament, the Republicans attempted to simply cancel the results. While the president, Niceto Alcalá-Zamora, a Leftist somewhat more moderate than most Republicans, though an active participant in the Pact of San Sebastián, declined to comply with his fellow Leftists’ demands (there was always a spectrum on the Spanish Left), he ensured that the CEDA was barred from any participation in the government and denied any share of political power. (Preston delicately refers to this as the Left resisting “electoral disunity”).

By 1934, though, this became untenable, so some minor ministerial offices were granted the CEDA. The response of the harder left side of the Republicans, led by the Socialists, was to launch a widespread revolt (often today euphemistically called a “general strike,” but called at the time by the Socialists a “revolutionary strike,” with the avowed aim of “overthrowing the government and taking power”), passively supported by the rest of the Republican parties.

Only in the Asturias mining regions did this succeed, for a time, with the Republican revolutionaries killing around a hundred of their local political opponents out of hand, burning churches and stealing millions from local banks.

The revolting miners, as Hugh Thomas points out, were very well paid; “[t]heir action was politically, rather than economically, inspired.” The Asturias rebellion was put down by Franco, using Moroccan troops; Payne says “the army units also committed atrocities, and there may have been as many as a hundred summary executions, though only one victim was ever identified, despite the vociferous leftist propaganda campaign that followed for months and years.”

It is worth spending some more time on the Asturias rebellion, for a few reasons. For one, it was the first time Franco came to be seen as an enemy of the Left, and his successful defeat of the Left meant that he became a permanent target of the Left’s hatred.

The Asturias rebellion is also an example of the propaganda machine of the Left, which for nearly a century has used this as the supposed inception of the Civil War, conveniently ignoring not only that it was a Left revolt to overthrow an already leftist government, for the sin of allowing a center-right party to participate in the government at all, and that violence had been a stock tactic of the Spanish Left, by 1934, for several years.

Finally, and related to the second reason, the Asturias rebellion is a good way to gauge how susceptible an author is, himself, to propaganda; it is a standard candle.

Payne, as I say, offers specifics—maybe a hundred dead leftists in summary executions—but he offers a footnote, “Within only a few months leftist spokesmen were permitted to present charges of atrocities before a military tribunal. The resulting inquiry produced concrete evidence of only one killing, though probably there were more. The most extensive study on this point is [a 2006 Spanish-language monograph].”

Hugh Thomas gives the figure as about 200 killed “in the repression,” though he offers no support for his figure. Overtly Left mouthpieces commonly talk of “thousands” killed. Preston offers no figures, he merely complains for pages about “savagery,” “brutality,” “howling for vengeance” and such like, while making racist statements about Franco’s Moroccan troops.

This pattern continues in almost all high-profile events in the Civil War—all of which are high profile because they were specifically chosen by the Left at the time as the most susceptible to use for their global propaganda campaign.

This was all run-up to the fatal elections of February, 1936, in which the CEDA contested against a “Popular Front” of rigidly leftist parties. The election was called by the President, Alcalá-Zamora, specifically to prevent the CEDA leader, José María Gil-Robles, from becoming Prime Minister.

The result was probably an extremely narrow victory for the Popular Front, marred by extensive pre-election violence (almost exclusively by the Left, as Payne notes) and leftist mobs in numerous areas “intefer[ing] with either the balloting or the registration of votes, augmenting the leftist tally or invalidating rightist pluralities or majorities.”

Rather than wait for the normal processes for handover of power, the Left immediately seized power wherever it had the ability, releasing their compatriots from jail, and illegally and forcibly “unilaterally register[ing] its own victory at the polls.”

The Left’s behavior with respect to the CEDA is similar to the electoral behavior of the American Left today. It is not quite as dramatic here, because in the American structure the tools are lacking to actually deny power to a party that wins seats.

The American system is more cut-and-dried in that way. Therefore, when conservatives threaten to gain any actual power, other actions are instead taken. The first line of defense is to allow neutered conservatives “in the government,” like John McCain or Mitt Romney, on the condition they never, ever, attempt to actually deny any victory to the Left.

The second line of defense, against those who are not, like McCain and Romney, quislings deep in their souls, is to use the press, dominated by the Left and able to wholly determine what is considered news, to open propaganda campaigns to delegitimize conservatives who threaten to actually exercise power.

The third line of defense is legal attacks by either civil suits or the organs of the state. And the fourth line of defense, the trump card (no pun intended) is to use the courts, in particular but not limited to the Supreme Court, to simply, much as in the old Spanish Republican way, to illegally deny the exercise of power to conservatives.

This last strategy is wholly successful in only a few areas, related to claimed emancipatory autonomy (notably abortion and sexual license), because the Left does not control every aspect of the Supreme Court as it so dearly desires.

The Left’s response to not being able to completely control the Supreme Court has been, when this fourth level of tactic is needed, to drag every conservative attempt to exercise power through legal molasses, by suborning low-level federal judges into issuing ludicrous and unlawful decisions based purely on the desire to advance Left goals, and imposing nationwide injunctions mandating the desired result.

After many months or years, if the Supreme Court has time to add such a case to its docket, the lawless decision is reversed, with no consequence or sanction to the original judge (quite the contrary), but the Left goal has usually been mostly or totally accomplished.

This system is intolerable—conservatives should find a good issue and declare a refusal to adhere to such an injunction, and such lawless judges should be severely punished. But that is a discussion for some other time.

Back to February, 1936. Whether the election was truly won by the Left is unclear. Hugh Thomas thinks it was, though by a slim margin. Payne is less sure, and emphasizes that vote totals can’t tell the whole story when votes were suppressed by leftist violence and fraud.

Payne notes that “There were runoff elections in several provinces in March, but in the face of mounting violence the right withdrew, adding more seats to the leftist majority. Late in March, when the new parliamentary electoral commission convened, the leftist majority arbitrarily reassigned thirty-two seats from the right to the left, augmenting that majority further.”

Elections in conservative provinces were declared invalid; and in the re-runs, conservatives were violently prevented from running.

Payne’s conclusion is that “In a four-step process, electoral results originally almost evenly divided between left and right were rigged and manipulated over a period of three months until the Popular Front commanded a majority of two-thirds of the seats, which would soon give it the power to amend the constitution as it pleased. In the process, democratic elections ceased to exist.”

But both Payne and Thomas agree that after the initial vote, the Left manipulated the system to try to expand a dubious majority. The details of this episode are glossed over by Moradiellos, who prefers to simply claim that the Popular Front won a “slight” victory and move on, and simply ignored by Preston, who says the victory was “narrow” but resulted in “a massive triumph in terms of seats in the Cortes,” without any explanation of how that could be.

(It is about here in reading Preston’s book that one realizes that his normal tactic is to lie by omission, while burying the reader in mounds of irrelevant detail, making his account seem complete.) At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter, since the Left’s goal was the permanent seizure of power, and this was the handy trigger. If it hadn’t been this, some other pretext would have been used to violently cement power and permanently, or so they thought, destroy the Right.

The Republicans immediately unleashed a nationwide assault against the Right. Payne asks, “How bad was the situation by July 1936? The frequent overt violations of the law, assaults on property, and political violence were without precedent for a modern European country not undergoing total revolution.”

These included looting, arson, massive theft, “virtual impunity for criminal action by members of Popular Front parties, manipulation and politicization of justice, . . . and a substantial growth in political violence, resulting in more than three hundred deaths.”

The military began to actively plot overthrow of the government, though Franco was not initially actively involved and hedged his bets (his calculating, and some thought cold, manner of approaching such decisions was not pleasing to his Army compatriots).

But on the night of July 12, 1936, José Calvo Sotelo, the charismatic chief Monarchist in parliament, was brazenly assassinated by the government’s Assault Guards (indirectly assisted by the Republican Minister of the Interior), in revenge for the murder of an Assault Guard prominent in anti-Right violence, José Castillo, by the Falange, the small Spanish fascist party.

The Republican government’s reaction was to arrest nobody but two hundred rightists and to continue its campaign of repression. (Preston characterizes this as “immediately beginning a thorough investigation” and then does not return to the matter).

For many or most on the Left, most prominently the Socialist leader Largo Caballero, a military revolt was desired, since they believed the Republicans could crush it and thereby permanently seize power without further pushback.

And regardless of desirability, most on the Left now believed in the “necessity” of civil war. “Thus, in the final days neither the government nor the leftist parties did anything to avoid the conflict, but, in a perverse way, welcomed military revolt, which they mistakenly thought would clear the air.” (Their mistake, actually, was not that it did not clear the air, but that the fresh air was not to their liking).

Logically enough, Payne pegs this as the point at which the generals, and Franco, realized that it was more dangerous not to revolt than to revolt, so the war was on. The generals (not yet under Franco’s leadership) launched their revolt; the government handed out weapons to the Left. And the war came.

The Civil War

All Franco biographers cover the war in detail. It lasted three years. Soon Franco was granted supreme military and political control by the other counter-revolutionary generals, in part because he had the best troops, in part because he managed to be the conduit for equipment from Mussolini, and in part because of his dominant personality and the near-universal admiration in which he was held among the military.

The Republicans held several of the major cities; the Nationalists others and the countryside, where they had broad-based support, especially among poor peasants. The Nationalists, in the areas they controlled, deliberately implemented a counter-revolution to end leftist and liberal domination; they “embraced a cultural and spiritual neotraditionalism without precedent in recent European history.”

In their political theory, following Joseph de Maistre, arch-opponent of the French Revolution, a counter-revolution was not the opposite of a revolution, which would make it Burkean, but an opposing revolution. The Spanish Civil War showed that Burkeanism has very definite limits, after all; appeals by American conservatives to him and to Russell Kirk, past a certain point in the polity, which we have not reached yet, are only of any relevance or use once the smoke clears and the bodies are buried, and serve before then only to hamstring conservatives in their reaction to those who would destroy them.

Despite their far superior organization (though the Republicans improved theirs over time), the Nationalists were inferior to the Republicans in domestic propaganda, and far inferior in international propaganda. In part this was because the people in charge on the Nationalist side were military men, both disinterested in and contemptuous of propaganda.

Their idea of propaganda was to broadcast choleric and threatening radio addresses into towns they were attacking. In part it was because the Left has always been master of propaganda, a fact on display both inside Spain, where morale was kept up by inspirational posters and mass rallies (though the Nationalists used posters too), and even more so outside of Spain, where the international Left eagerly created a distorted perception of the Nationalists and the war.

The Falange, the Spanish fascists, are rarely a significant focus of discussions about the Civil War, except in propagandistic discussions. This is because they were not notably powerful; they were merely one part of the mix of Nationalist politics, which included many military men not aligned with a party, monarchists (in two brands), and Catholics (who opposed the Falange generally, and violently opposed modernist foreign right-wing political movements, especially National Socialism).

The Falange, in any case, lost most of their independent power when Franco forcibly took over the party as the vehicle for his “National Movement,” cramming, in theory, everyone into his personal party and blurring the lines between himself and the Falange. During the war and immediately after, Franco identified himself publicly with the Falange.

He was happy to accept their support, and encourage the cult of their leader, executed early in the war by the Republicans, José Antonio Primo de Rivera (son of the dictator)—as many have pointed out, it was convenient for Franco to only have to compete with a dead man. After the war, with his typical cold calculation, Franco suppressed what power the Falangists still retained, seeing them as adding no value to his neotraditionalist Movement, and being far too interested in radical modernism.

Nobody who is serious contends that Franco was fascist in any meaningful way—that is, under any actual definition of fascism, rather than under its use as a flexible term of abuse. (Moradiellos offers a detailed analysis of the use of the term in modern Spanish scholarship.) Nomenclature can be misleading if transposed without thought into today.

To take another example, Franco regularly used the term “totalitarian” as a positive, something inconceivable to us after seeing the results of totalitarian regimes in the twentieth century.

But when Franco described the Movement as totalitarian, he meant not that it would attempt to control every aspect of life, even people’s thoughts, which is the meaning we imbibe from Communism and from works like Orwell’s 1984. Nor did he mean that politics would continuously invade and dominate all areas of life; Mussolini’s famous definition of fascism as “Everything within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state.” Rather, he meant a system “that would dominate the public sphere but otherwise permit a limited traditional semi-pluralism.”

By way of example Franco offered fifteenth-century Catholic monarchs. Moreover, the Movement was meant explicitly to advance a flexible plan, not a program. “It will not be rigid or static, but subject, in every case, to the work of revision and improvement that reality may counsel.” Franco looked backward, not forward to ideological rightism.

The same distorted nomenclature is true of “dictator,” originally a Roman term used not as a term of opprobrium, but of description, and until the modern era, seen as simply another possible method of political organization, useful in certain circumstances but, like all political organization, subject to abuse.

In fact, as Moradiellos discusses in some detail, around this time the concept of dictator received the attention of Carl Schmitt, who distinguished between the commissarial and sovereign forms of dictatorship, in particular as they related to early twentieth-century Germany. In this taxonomy,

Franco was a sovereign dictator—but that does not imply that his rule was arbitrary or despotic, the meaning we typically take from the modern use of the term. Franco had very definite and very simple core principles. But beyond those, he was politically flexible—not, for example, wedded to a monarchy after his death, and when he decided that was the best course, not quick to decide which monarchical line should ascend the throne (left vacant after 1931). And Spain under Franco was very much a country of the rule of law.

There is no need here to rehash the details of the war. In short, Franco gradually rolled up the Republicans, after trying and failing to quickly capture Madrid and end the war. It is fairly evident that Franco did not mind a longer war; as Moradiellos emphasizes, this enabled him to permanently repress the Left by killing his opponents and scaring the rest into final submission (shades of Sherman’s March to the Sea). Both the Axis and Stalin supplied the Nationalists and Republicans respectively, but that almost certainly did not change the end result of the war. By 1939, it was over.

Immediately upon the beginning of the Civil War, both sides began systematic executions of their political opponents in areas they controlled. Contrary to myth, this was organized on both sides, though as with all things better organized by the Nationalists.

It was not some kind of excusable spontaneous excess on the part of the Left, as they have often tried to pretend during and since, the line that Preston uniformly takes as well. Other than being factually wrong, such a claim is laughable on its face when viewed hindsight from the twenty-first century, since in, without exception, every other Left accession to power, organized mass killing of opponents in order to create the “new world” has been an absolutely essential and central part of the plan, invariably carried through if and to the extent power is gained.

As with many other Left actions and claims, from denying the evil of Lenin to the guilt of Alger Hiss to who was responsible for Katyn, they may have been plausible once, but current belief brands one as either a liar or a fool. In fact, such violence had openly been part of the Left’s plan in Spain for years.

True, on both sides the organization of killing outside of battle was mostly locally organized, not centrally organized. Payne says “It is now generally agreed that the number of executions by the [Republicans] totaled about fifty-five thousand, while those by the Nationalists were more numerous, with estimates ranging from sixty thousand to one hundred thousand or more.

The higher figures appear to be a demographic impossibility, so that the low estimate appears more likely. In the long run, the Nationalist repression became more concerted, was the more effective of the two, and claimed the most lives, particularly with the extensive round of executions after the end of the Civil War.” Preston agrees with these numbers, though his estimate is on the higher end, which suggests, at least, rough agreement across the historical spectrum.

Of course, this is comparing apples to oranges, because it ignores two critical elements. First, the Left killed fewer because since they conquered little territory, killings were mostly confined to the cities they held when the war began, and therefore could not accomplish their goal of wiping out all those on the Right, merely those unfortunate enough to be trapped with the Republicans (including a high percentage of the country’s Army officers). (And, as famously narrated by Orwell in Homage to Catalonia, soon enough the Communists turned to stamping out former allies on the Left).

Second, it ignores the certainty that the Republicans would, like all Communists coming to power, have slaughtered enormous numbers of people after the war for many years, so including post-war executions in a comparison is a distortion.

It would be far more realistic to assume that the Republicans would have executed some double-digit multiple of those the Nationalists executed; it would have been like the Jacobins in the Vendée. And, critically, unlike Left regimes, which are always focused on killing by class and status in order to achieve utopia, not the punishment of specific crimes, Franco’s repression quickly became less radical, not more radical.

As Payne notes, “Once the major actors and criminals of the Spanish revolution had been prosecuted, there was no need to repeat the process.” That would not have been true if the Republicans had won.

Thus, such killings by the Nationalists during the war had nothing in common with the ideological killings of the twentieth century, whether by Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot, or many others. Rather, they were conducted under a semblance (sometimes dubious or even specious) of the rule of law, through military tribunals, directed either at those known to have committed significant crimes (as the Republicans had in every area they controlled) or, a smaller number, those who were leaders of the revolutionary opposition.

I find the latter hard to morally justify, sitting comfortably in my twenty-first-century seat of luxury and security, but in context, I do not find them hard to understand (and I understand the Republicans’ killing of political opponents as well); nor do I find the “victims” in any way blameless (although there must have been mistakes and excessive severity in many cases, as is always the case in wartime situations).

Regardless, this was not the type of class- or race-based killing common in the twentieth century, sweeping up without specific accusations and guilt men, women, and children. It was political and executive judgment on actual enemies working to destroy their countrymen, and that’s what happens in civil wars.

Preston, in 2012’s The Spanish Holocaust, addresses killings during the war. But unlike his magnum opus, his biography of Franco, this later book is a work of unhinged propaganda, designed to whitewash and excuse all Republican killing, and to magnify the horror of all Nationalist killing. Words such as “savage” and “vicious” appear with metronomic regularity, never once applied to Republicans.

The default mode is the passive voice when, infrequently, Republican killings are described, always in the context of excusing them. Preston makes truly ludicrous claims, such as that during the entire Civil War, there took place (he cannot bring himself to use the word “rape” by Republicans) “the sexual molestation of around one dozen nuns and the deaths of 296,” a low toll he attributes to the “respect for women that was built into the Republic’s reforming programme.”

Naturally, he does not mention the roughly 7,000 other clergy executed by the Republicans, except obliquely, without numbers, and to excuse them as unfortunate, but understandable, excesses by zealous heroes. On the other hand, as I say Preston uses the same numbers of dead as Payne and other unbiased scholars; his fault is in propagandistic presentation and the use of anecdotes that are mostly almost certainly lies, not statistics (in fact, Payne uses higher numbers for those executed after the war, 30,000 instead of Preston’s 20,000).

There is not much more to say about this book, but if you’re interested, you might try reading Payne’s bloodless evisceration of it in a Wall Street Journal review. “Mr. Preston, rather than presenting a fully objective historical analysis or interpretation of violence against civilians during the Spanish conflict, is recapitulating civil-war-era propaganda. . . . Rather than implementing some radical new Hitlerian or Pol Pot-like scheme, the essentially traditionalist Franco followed the policy of victors in civil wars throughout most of history: slaughtering the leaders and main activists of the other side while permitting the great bulk of the rank and file to go free.”

Franco did not care what it took to put the Republican revolution down. Such was Franco’s personality—practical, tending toward icy, in his political relations. Really, though, Franco’s personality was somewhat opaque; he kept no journal and what few personal papers he had are still mostly in the possession of his family and not public.

He was, in both personal and military matters, straightforward for the most part. He took counsel from others, but was decisive when the time came to make a decision. Most importantly, he shared two crucial characteristics with me. He fell asleep immediately upon going to bed, annoying his wife because she wanted to talk, and he hated rice pudding. Beyond that, though, it is hard to say in many cases what Franco thought.

No surprise, however, at some point Franco, at least to some extent, began to believe his own press. He did not become puffed up, much less behave badly—he was always punctilious in his personal behavior, and did not fly into rages or otherwise show lack of self-control like many dictators.

But he did become convinced that he was an instrument of Providence, always a dangerous belief. He also prided himself on some minor abilities he did not have—for example, he believed he was an expert in economics, whereas everyone knew he was not. Regardless, Franco developed a charismatic form of leadership, and was never challenged for leadership. Payne’s conclusion is that “the effort to achieve legitimacy [was] thus more praetorian or Bonapartist than Fascist.” That seems about right.

In any mention of the Civil War, another standard candle, the 1937 bombing of the Basque town of Guernica by the German Condor Legion, always comes up. This is not because it was the only, or the most damaging, aerial bombing of the war, but because the Left chose it as the focus of a propaganda campaign. Aerial bombing was then highly inaccurate (my grandmother’s house in Debrecen, Hungary, during World War II, was partially destroyed as the result of American bombs missing the railway station).

Payne notes that far from the “planned terror-bombing” of leftist fever dreams, the bombing of Guernica was a routine strike on a military target (and as Payne notes, “indiscriminate attacks on cities, almost always small in scope, were in fact more commonly conducted by the Republican air force,” giving the example of the bombing of Cabra, which killed more than a hundred civilians, but of which you have never heard).

Preston, of course, ignores these facts, and accepts at face value high-end, propagandistic claims for the number of dead. The inept and mendacious Nationalist response, including the suggestion that the Republicans had burned Guernica themselves to deny it to the Nationalists (it was a largely wooden town), made things worse for the Nationalists. But it was propaganda gold for the Left, who inflated the casualty figure, Payne says, “approximately one thousand percent” (the real figure was around 200, maybe somewhat more or less, and only that high because an air-raid shelter took a direct hit).

How many Spaniards died in the war? All in, maybe 350,000 by violence, including battle deaths, executions, and civilian deaths, with maybe 200,000 or 300,000 more due to “extremely harsh economic and social conditions.”

But, as Payne says, “[I]t would be hard to exaggerate the extent of the accompanying trauma the war inflicted on Spanish society as a whole. The complete destruction of the normal polity, the ubiquity of internecine violence, and the enormous privation and suffering left many of its members shell shocked and psychologically adrift.”

This in part explains why Franco faced nearly zero domestic opposition during his lifetime—nobody wanted to go back to that. They were reminded of that by a low-level terroristic Communist insurgency in the late 1940s, which killed several hundred people, mostly in train and train station bombings (and which Preston characterizes as heroic resistance).

After The War

After the war, Franco and the Nationalists cemented their power. As Payne says, “Franco planned not merely to complete construction of a new authoritarian system but also to effect a broad cultural counterrevolution that would make another civil war impossible, and that meant severe repression of the left.”

Forceful action to that end was characteristic of the immediate post-war period, with nearly 300,000 imprisoned in 1939, though most were released in 1940. “The Francoist repression, despite its severity, was not a Stalinist-Hitlerian type of liquidation applied automatically by abstract criteria equivalent to class or ethnicity. The great majority of leftist militants were never arrested, nor even questioned.”

The death sentence was reserved for political crimes involving major violence. Still, there were many executions after the war, much along the same lines as during the war, but with more due process, and quite a few jail sentences—though unlike today in America, when multi-decade sentences for relatively minor crimes are the norm, the sentences were relatively short and soon enough even those convicted of being involved in political killings were released from jail, certainly by the late 1940s.

Preston does not talk much about postwar justice in his biography of Franco, moving quickly to World War II and contenting himself with occasional references to “savage repression,” without much more detail, which superficial treatment by omission reinforces Payne’s more detailed account.

Franco’s goal in 1939, and onward, was to not only complete the conservative counter-revolution and create neotraditionalism on a social level, but to economically modernize the country and make Spain relevant on the world stage. He saw no contradiction between those two things, a failure of prediction, though understandable through a backward-looking prism. In other words, Franco wanted to make Spain great again, by which he meant forgetting the entire previous 150 years.

By economic modernity, Franco meant mostly autarchy, not development relying on foreign trade or foreign investment. And by global relevancy, Franco meant an authoritarian regime with an international presence, mostly at the expense of the French in North Africa. Retrospectively, both these goals seem half-baked.

But from the perspective of the time, both autarchy and authoritarian regimes, of left or right, were the coming thing in Europe, so Franco was not swimming against the tide. In fact, as with many people across the globe, including in the United States, Franco believed firmly that, globally, “the democratic system is today on the road to collapse.” He was wrong, although perhaps his prediction was premature, not wrong.

Still, Franco claimed to be democratic. What that meant was what he, and the Spanish political scholars of the time, rejected “inorganic democracy,” consisting of pure majority rule. Instead, he wanted “organic democracy,” where voting was organized around groups (e.g., family voting; syndicalism); local institutions (including, but not limited to, the Church) had significant power (in essence, subsidiarity); and, naturally, a strong executive power, in the form of himself (as “caudillo”) or, later, a return to monarchy.

As Moradiellos cites the Spanish legal theorist Luis del Valle Pascual, it was “based on the basic social forms (corporations, families, classical municipalities) and formulated by a ‘command hierarchy’ according to a ‘fair principle of selection.’ ”

If the Nationalists had won quickly, as was widely expected, nothing would have been settled. The irony is that the Civil War sought by the Left to permanently destroy the Right ended up doing the opposite. Both because of the smashing of the Left during and after the war, and because the great mass of Spaniards never wanted to return to the dark days of the war, Franco was able to remake Spain after the power of the Left was permanently broken.

True, Spain was ruined after he died, but not in the way that would have resulted if the Nationalists had not launched their counter-revolution, by mass slaughter and establishment of a Communist utopia. Those elements of the Left, as in Greece, were destroyed, and most of their successors took a different, Gramscian tack, resulting in Spain taking the same path to decay as the rest of Western Europe.

Franco’s governmental system therefore involved an “indirect and corporatist scheme of representation.” Whatever the specifics, which changed somewhat over the decades, the regime was widely supported by most of Spanish society (although foreigners could be forgiven for not realizing that, given the ongoing global Left propaganda campaign).

Nobody wanted to go back to the war, and most people, with the usual exceptions of some urban workers and radicalized agricultural laborers (along with Catalan and Basque separatists), saw that the Republicans having won would have been very bad indeed.

The majority of the revolutionary/Republican leaders had been executed or fled the country, and the rest of the remaining Republicans kept their mouths shut (although they were not persecuted). Franco emphasized the country’s Catholic identity, and he used the Movement to keep a firm lid on all segments of Nationalist support, gradually downgrading the Falange and keeping a firm lid on the monarchists.

From 1939 to 1945, Franco tried to get as much benefit as he could from the Second World War without becoming directly involved. Spain couldn’t actually join the Axis without imploding, since it depended on British-supplied oil and was in dire economic straits.

But Franco wanted to expand Spain’s possessions in North Africa, and when Hitler and Mussolini were at the height of their power, he was only too happy to curry favor—while refusing to actually offer anything meaningful, trying to keep up his balancing act of not overly angering the Allies. Certainly, Franco resonated with some aspects of National Socialism and Fascism, but was never interested in such systems being imposed in Spain, and refused to participate in persecutions of the Jews, accepting thousands of Jewish refugees fleeing France and ignoring the protests of the Germans and the Vichy French.

The major contribution to the Axis was that thousands of volunteer Spaniards fought against the Soviet Union, in the Blue Legion. Soon enough Franco realized that Hitler had reached his apogee, and delicately sidestepped away, trying to pretend that he was never really that serious about it anyway, and don’t you know that Communism is the real enemy? Still, this is probably the least attractive period of Franco’s career, though I suppose people who allied with Stalin shouldn’t really find too much fault with Franco’s choice of wartime friends.

Thus, Franco would have gotten autarchy even if that hadn’t been an economic goal of his, because after 1945, Spain was wholly isolated, due to its association with the Axis, and due even more to the global hatred of the Left for Franco and his success against the Left. Such rage dominated the American perspective, as well as pretty much every other major country other than England (where Churchill was very open that were he Spanish, he would have been a Nationalist).

Soon enough, though, between hard diplomatic work and the aggression of Stalin, relations with the United States improved. Under Eisenhower they became positively warm. Therefore, with his usual luck, Franco managed to emerge from World War II with Spain in a reasonably good position, and without the recurrence of the Republican threat.

Still, the 1940s mostly consisted of Spain staggering along economically. Moreover, this, along with Franco’s excessively relaxed attitude, encouraged widespread corruption, always the hallmark of a system with troubles (although Franco himself did not build a fortune, nor did his family get especially rich, at least by the standards of most authoritarian regimes).

Postwar Spain very much had the rule of law. Franco never interfered in the judicial process, which was uniformly applied (even though technically supreme judicial power was vested in him). The Cortes had free discussion. Every so often there were still death sentences, such as that imposed on Julián Grimau in 1963. Grimau was a Republican police officer who had been in charge of an infamous Barcelona prison where many were executed (mostly leftists in disfavor, but some Nationalists too).

He returned to Spain (why is not clear) and was arrested and sentenced (somewhat dubiously, using an obscure statute to get around the expiration of the statute of limitations).

This incident would not be important except for what it says about the Left and its lies. “The Communist leader was painted in the international media, however, as an innocent oppositionist, a peaceful organizer, about to be executed exclusively for being a political opponent. A massive clemency campaign got under way. . . . The Spanish embassy in Paris was firebombed.”

Nonetheless, Grimau was executed, causing more howls of rage from the Left, which succeeded in imposing another short period of international ostracism. Why this matters is that it shows that any claim made by the Left, that is, any claim in mainstream currency that makes the Nationalists look bad, has to be examined not only for its tilt, but for whether it has any truth at all, or is simply a pack of lies. Since the Left is so often able to control the narrative, and never has to pay any price for lying, it is encouraged to lie.

Franco maintained political order, and dropped his demand for autarchy, not so much because he had changed his mind but because he was convinced of the need to do so by his technocratic advisors (most of them Opus Dei members, including Franco’s closest advisor for decades, Luis Carrero Blanco, assassinated by a Basque bomb in 1973).

The idea that Franco ruled “with an iron hand” is silly; he actually didn’t spend much time ruling at all, and most governing was done by his cabinet, which he carefully balanced among competing political interests and periodically reshuffled to that end. “Franco was a ‘regenerationist’ who sought to economically develop his country while restoring and maintaining a conservative cultural framework, contradictory though those objectives were.”

Political controls, whether over the press or the political activity of unions or individuals, loosened over time, which was criticized by the Right and taken as a sign of weakness by the Left. That said, the political controls were never very aggressive; Solzhenitsyn was widely criticized by the Left when he visited Spain after he was exiled by the Soviets and snickered at the Spanish Left’s claim that they suffered under Franco; he pointed out that they could buy all the foreign newspapers they wanted, move wherever they wanted, and only suffered the lightest censorship. He was not invited back.

“The last twenty-five years of the Franco regime, from 1950 to 1975, was the time of the greatest sustained economic development and general improvement in living standards in all Spanish history.” GDP rose an average of 7.8 percent per year through the 1950s.

Payne compares Spanish economic policy in the 1960s to that of China today, noting that “the two main differences are that there was greater freedom in Spain during the 1960s than there [is] in China and that the proportion of state capitalism was much less.”

But, as Payne also notes, “Modernization resulted in a profound social, cultural, and economic transformation that tended to subvert the basic institutions of Franco and his regime.” The birth rate was deliberately, and successfully, encouraged to stay high. Land reform was gradually introduced, as was universal education.

All in all, Spain was made great again, although no doubt the carping Left managed to convey a different picture to the world of the time. But as this happened, in the 1960s and 1970s, Franco became somewhat out of touch, and more out of sympathy, with the new booming, glitzy, consumerist Spain, even if that was the inevitable result, at least in that era, of the economic dynamism he had sought and achieved.

Franco died in his bed in 1975, slowly and painfully but with no complaint, with his rule never having been challenged, and having carefully arranged the succession of political power to a restored monarchy, in the person of King Juan Carlos, grandson of Alfonso XIII, deposed in 1931. What Franco wanted was a strong monarchy, an avoidance of a return to political parties, which had caused so much trouble in the early twentieth century, and continued neotraditionalism.

He got none of those things. All the things that Franco had tried to do, except to prevent a Communist takeover, were largely and swiftly overturned, many even before he died. Materialism and consumerism ruled Spain; the birth rate plummeted; even the Church, long a bulwark of Francoism, turned left, with younger priests engaging in subversive activities and even encouraging violence (a harbinger of the corruption that has now swept over the Roman church).

King Juan Carlos, although he was more liberal than Franco hoped, but probably no more liberal than Franco thought likely, ensured that the Left was not able to immediately retaliate against Franco supporters as they gained power. So for some years Francoism was mostly ignored. Some writers, including Moradiellos, contort themselves to derive meaning from this silence.

They attribute it to a tacit agreement to move on. But silence is the default for all the great leftist crimes of the twentieth century; this attempt to derive meaning is merely an expression of surprise at the Left’s inability to successfully persecute anyone associated with Franco and Francoism after the end of that political system.

More likely this silence is indifference by modern Spaniards, who refused then and still refuse today to endorse the Left’s usual campaign to silence and punish their opponents of decades before.

Political memory is the essential fuel of the leftist engine of destruction, which requires delegitimizing any regime opposed to the Left, and that, as Moradiellos complains, a third of Spaniards choose “none” as their “personal political attitude to the immediate collective past,” simply shows that, for whatever reason, Spaniards generally refuse to buy into the Left’s hysterical demands for rewriting the past and using it for oppression in the present, which is to their credit.

In recent years the silence has been broken, because the Left in Spain has been running an aggressive campaign against Francoism, since the Left never forgets, unlike the Right. A key component of these campaigns is always the elimination of any agreed-upon amnesty that was offered the Right (the Left has a permanent amnesty in all cases, whether or not the law says so).

This campaign gets occasional notice in English-language media. One element of this has been to attack the mausoleum for Civil War dead Franco erected at the Valley of the Fallen (where he is also buried, although he did not specify that wish). The claim is made that it was built by “slaves”; Peter Hitchens echoes this claim.

Payne disagrees, and as always offers specifics as opposed to the generalities of leftist propagandists. “Such accusations are exaggerated. Between 1943 and 1950 a little more than two thousand prisoners convicted by military courts were employed, but they received both modest wages, as well as fringe benefits for their families, and a steep reduction in their prison terms, ranging from two to six days of credit for each day worked. Each was a volunteer for the project, and there were rarely more than three to four hundred at any given time. They worked under the same conditions as the regular laborers, and some of them later returned to join the regular work crew after completing their sentences.” The Pyramids this was not.

And a few weeks ago the Spanish government announced that Franco’s body would be disinterred. At least they are reinterring him in a government cemetery, rather than throwing his body in the river, though wait a few decades, and maybe that will happen too.

What Does This Imply?

We have now reached the point where, inevitably, I try to derive lessons for today. As always, one should not try to shoehorn the present into the past. Much is different between 2019 America and 1936 Spain, and not just that people are a lot fatter now.

The specific political issues of the day are quite different, in part because everyone being wealthy by historical standards long ago destroyed the mass appeal of Communism and true socialism (even if it appears to be having a resurgence of sorts), and anarchism is not on any relevant menus. Such specifics are less important than the basic divide between Left and Right, however, which remains exactly the same as it was in 1936.

The atrociously low level of public discourse today also adds to confusion; it is difficult sometimes to grasp the nub of arguments with the tremendous amount of chaff flying around in the air. But beyond these, there are two differences that really matter.

First, the divisions are much more poorly demarcated in America today. In Spain, who was Right and who was Left was clearly evident to everyone. Today, who is Left is mostly evident, though somewhat vaguer than in Spain, with more spread-out power centers and leadership, as well as more fragmented issues of focus.

But there is no equivalent in America today to any part of the 1930s Spanish Right. There is no powerful, organized opposition, or any organized opposition whatsoever, to the Left. The closest thing to an opposition is the masses of “deplorables,” who are denied all power by both the Democrats and Republicans in America, the latter group existing mostly to provide a pseudo-opposition to the Left, by promising the deplorables what they want and then reneging on even trying. No equivalent exists to the monarchists, or the Falange.

There is no powerful media that advances the Right agenda; there are some outposts of conservative monologues, and some Internet stars, but they are not allowed to set the narrative, which is wholly within the grasp of the Left or its enablers, as are the universities, the schools, all big corporations, and the entertainment media. Intellectual groups of conservatives in America are ineffectual, with no actual power or influence and no path to achieve it (although some could offer intellectual heft if there were an actual Right).

Second, and a consequence of the first difference, the specific enemies of today’s American Left are less clear. Spain had Right institutions staffed by people who could be easily targeted: the Church, the Army, the right-wing press, right-wing academics.

The Left focused on winning by eliminating those people. Today’s Left could not do that; if the Left were going to conduct a campaign of violent suppression, the targets would merely be occasional individuals who form the beginnings of a threat to the absolute Left hegemony (e.g., Jordan Peterson), not Right institutions or classes of people staffing those institutions, since there are neither such institutions nor such classes of people.

True, today’s Left does not need to do that, since it has gathered all power to itself, but either way, it makes attacks such as the Left conducted in Spain mostly pointless.

These two differences imply that a civil war here, today, of the type fought in Spain is very unlikely, whatever dark mutterings about the possibility keep cropping up on both the Right and Left. Even if the Right wanted to start a violent counter-revolution, it is not even remotely clear how that could be organized, or what the practical goals would be.

And the flashpoints that actually started the Civil War, private killings sanctioned by the government, are, despite the prevalence of low-level violence by the Left, really totally absent in America today. One can predict that they’re coming, but there’s little actual evidence of that, even if the normal historical arc of the Left is to converge on the desirability of physically eliminating opposition.

Sure, there is plenty of evidence of soft totalitarianism, where the Right is actively suppressed by denying prestigious education and remunerative employment, as well as membership in the ruling class, to anyone who dares to challenge the Left. It’s very hard to organize, or justify, high-level violence as a response to that, though. So yes, someday the grasp of the Left may exceed its reach, and result in civil war, but that does not appear imminent.

Such optimism, however, if that is what it is, depends on wealth, which can paper over a lot of sins and structural problems. The Left in power inevitably destroys wealth, because it always wants to enforce equality, by taking from the haves and giving to the have nots (hence the resurgence of true socialism).

The neoliberals who are only hard Left on social matters, while maintaining some semblance of economic reality (at the same time oppressing actual workers), will likely give way to the more attractive religious beliefs of the Marxists, while even on social matters they eat their own—both processes we see beginning in the current Democratic race for President.

At root, the Leftist program always has as its ultimate aim the achievement of utopia through the accomplishment of two concrete goals—remaking of society for “equality,” and the destruction of all core structures of society and their replacement by celebration of various forms of vice, this latter process labeled “liberty.”

It appears that people will, if it’s done non-violently, tolerate the former so long as their cup of consumer goods is full. When the music stops because the money runs out, whether because of economic irrationality or some externally imposed rupture, all bets about civil war are going to be off, because, I predict, the demarcations, and the leadership of groups so demarcated, will immediately arise.

The problem is that such demarcation will likely result in civil war, unless reality defeats and discredits the Left first, which is certainly possible. If not, it will have to be defeated permanently, as Franco very nearly did. It does no good to put the Left down if they will simply rise again; it is pointless to play Whack-A-Mole.

The Left must be stripped of all power and fully discredited, and to be discredited, it must be viewed by future generations as the intellectual equivalent of a combination of Nazism and the worship of Sol Invictus. I am not sure if that is even possible, since what the Left offers is so very, very seductive.

At a minimum it would require in the present day the equivalent of denazification; or perhaps the same kind of successful forgetting of the past implemented by King Charles II after the Restoration (not the typical Left forgetting of the past, which is just biding time until their past enemies can be destroyed). But it would also require offering something attractive as an alternative to the Leftist poison dream, which Franco did not do—he offered the past, which while better, does not inspire, and cannot be returned to. History has no arrow, but it does not go backward, either. The future must be what we make it.

Thus, at this moment Franco seems irrelevant. Or we are schooled to believe he is irrelevant, because we are conditioned to believe that the inevitable end of a regime like Franco’s is, well, like Franco’s—the return of left-wing dominance, at a minimum, the end of neotraditionalism, and triumph of liquid modernity.

We are so conditioned both because that is what has happened in all instances so far, not just of the ending of regimes like Franco’s, but also of the end of Communist regimes, which were replaced by “liberal democratic” regimes friendly to the philosophies that underlay Communism, but offering more Coca-Cola. We are further so conditioned because it is in the interests of, and a core belief of, the Left that history does have an arrow, and their triumph is the way it must be.

But this is really merely a glaring example of the error that George Orwell ascribed to James Burnham, to always be predicting “the continuation of the thing that is happening.” The opposite is actually true: the modern world of so-called liberal democracy is based on a fundamental denial of reality, and therefore it cannot continue.

Franco was not wrong that “inorganic democracy” is a silly system, something long recognized but forgotten in the modern era (and leaving aside that we don’t even have that anymore, as can be seen most clearly in Europe). Past performance is not only no guarantee, but no indicator, of future results; the Enlightenment project is played out.

So let’s predict the future. One possible path is the one we’re on: where Leftist oppression wears a smile and offers maximal freedom, that is, corrupt license, to everyone except those opposed to offering maximal freedom, and allows democracy as long as votes are for more of the same. Such is “liberal democracy” today; as Ryszard Legutko says, consisting of “coercion to freedom.” I imagine that as long as the money holds out, this could go along for a long time, even though collapse is a step function and no society at this point of degeneration has ever done anything but rapidly collapse.

Which leads us to the other possible path, getting off the path we’re on, pushing through some brambles, perhaps, and setting our steps on a broad and sunny path the contours of which were set, and the road itself paved, a long time ago. Franco proves it can be done, and just because Franco’s vision was shattered on his death, doesn’t mean the next entrant in the contest to bring virtue back to the West will suffer the same fate.

Even today, there are leaders pushing in this direction. In many ways, Viktor Orbán and his extremely popular Fidesz party in Hungary, and the Law and Justice Party in Poland, are the philosophical heirs of Franco, and are highly successful, which explains the hatred and vitriol directed their way by the global Left.

As Franco said in 1961, and as I am sure Orbán would agree, “The great weakness of modern states lies in their lack of doctrinal content, in having renounced a firm concept of man, life, and history. The major error of liberalism is in its negation of any permanent category of truth—its absolute and radical relativism—an error that, in a different form, was apparent in those other European currents that made ‘action’ their only demand and the supreme norm of their conduct [i.e., Communism and National Socialism]. . . . When the juridicial order does not proceed from a system of principles, ideas, and values recognized as superior and prior to the state, it ends in an omnipotent juridicial voluntarism, whether its primary organ be the so-called majority, purely numerical and inorganically expressed, or the supreme organs of power.” Exactly so.

This implies that the Left can be permanently defeated without war. But the only way out is through. As David Gress said of conservatives of the nineteenth century, “[T]hey were pessimists because they understood on the one hand that liberalism was the destiny of the West, and on the other that this set of doctrines was unable and unwilling, by its very nature, to restore the sense of self, of continuity, of belonging, and of tranquility that they considered essential to any civilization with a pretense to last.”

But liberalism has had its day; it is no longer the destiny of the West, but a played out set of empty and destructive doctrines. Through that reality, the future looks different, and brighter. We have rarely seen the Right offering this as an alternative, instead offering pabulum and the prayers that they will be eaten last. But we do see it being offered more often: in Hungary, in Poland, in Brazil, in Russia (though in dubious forms in those latter two).

In America, too, though without the organization or leadership found in those countries. It is not clear who could lead such a movement here. Certainly, nobody in evidence now. But the maelstrom births new creatures, some demons, some angels, some in-between. The right person at the right time can both defeat the Left and offer the future. Instead of offering that we will be as gods, he will offer that we be mighty among men, and he will offer human flourishing, rather than human destruction and depravity, the gifts of the Left.

What should be the goals of that man? His first step should be administrative: to create the organization on the Right that is lacking. This will be a new thing; the Man of Destiny will not rise through the Republican primaries and kiss Mitch McConnell’s ring, before settling into his seat in the Russell Office Building. Beyond that, though, what?

Franco, for all of his virtues, had a vision that was far too narrow. For the most part, he wanted to re-create the past, which is by definition impossible, and the attempt is both self-defeating and breeds unexpected consequences. He was the man to win the war, but really, he was not the man to lead the future, even Spain’s future.

What we want, what we need, is a new system drawing on the same roots, but not an insular, autarkic, inward-looking one. Rather, one dynamic, that can renew the shrinking human race. Perhaps it will renew the dying culture of the West, by far the best the world has ever seen. Or perhaps it is too late for that, and some form of synthesis to create a successor culture is necessary, as the West rose from Rome and the barbarians.

All doors are open, or will be, soon enough, and it will be the job of the new Franco, and his acolytes, to both unlock the correct door, and to step through.

Charles is a business owner and operator, in manufacturing, and a recovering big firm M&A lawyer. He runs the blog, The Worthy House.

The photo shows a poster of Franco, from the 1940s.