History of the Spanish Phalange, 1933-1939


Korean Minjok Leadership Academy
International Program
Kim Shin
Term Paper, AP European History Class, April 2007



Table of Contents


I. Introduction - The Political Setting of Spain (1931-1936)
- Establishment of the Second Republic
- Reforms of the Second Republic, 1931-1933
- Bienio Negro, 1933-1935
II. Falange in the Pre-Civil-War Years (1933-1936)
- Early Fascist Movements
- Early Years of the Falange
- The 27 Point Program & Corporate Syndicalism
- Jose Antonio
III. The Spanish Civil War & Falange's Subordination to Franco (1936-1939)
- Post-Election Instability and the Falange Expansion
- Subordination under Franco
IV. Spain, Fascist or Not ?
V. Conclusion
VI. Bibliography



I. Introduction - The Political Setting of Spain (1931-1936)



Establishment of the Second Republic

            Spain in the early 20th century was a somewhat anachronistic country. Political trends were up to a generation late compared to those of neighboring European countries. This was due to the fact that the pace of economic and social modernization was relatively slow, and also that Spain was identified with religion more exclusively than other countries, which made it resistant to trends of modern secularization and to introduction of new philosophies. As a result, it was possible to sustain a political model from 19th century liberalism even until the early 1930s. Common political ideologies in contemporary European countries like socialism, communism or fascism were less prominent in Spain.
Catching-up began in 1930 after the termination of the 7 year dictatorship of General Miguel Primo de Rivera. Primo de Rivera's dictatorship, acquiesced by the Spanish monarchy, collapsed because it failed to suggest clear doctrines nor introduce any new institutions to vitalize Spain at a time when entire Europe was undergoing turbulent changes.
Succeeding the dictatorship in the April of 1931 was Spain's Second Republic the First Republic existed for a brief period before Primo de Rivera's dictatorship amidst the political optimism of the Spanish people and its politicians.

Reforms of the Second Republic, 1931-1933
The coalition governments that ran Spain during this period were center-left socialists. These governments enthusiastically implemented social, economic reforms such as separating church and state, granting autonomy to the Catalans, and solving a grarian problems regarding land distribution.
The most notable among these reforms was the separation of church and state. The government was committed to the implementation of this policy that one of the government ministers, Manuel Azafia, even went on to proclaim that 'Spain has ceased to be Catholic.' In a state as staunchly religious as Spain, such sudden and aggressive policies toward secularization were bound to call for instability. The Catholic Church and Catholic organizations turned hostile towards the republic, and were obliged to create a Catholic Party CEDA (Confederation of Autonomous Rightist Groups) to gain political clout in order to reverse the secularization.
Attempts to modernize Spain through such reforms failed because the Great Depression that hit the world at a similar time made it difficult for the government to finance its reforms. Also, agrarian reforms were difficult to implement because of the already polarized relations between landowners and often militant agricultural workforce.

Bienio Negro, 1933-1935
With the support of the disappointed mass and the church, CEDA was elected into the government in 1933. The following two years are called Bienio Negro - two black years - because the new government simply undid all the legislation of the previous administration. Rights of the Church and the rights of property were reaffirmed by the CEDA administration.
Having seen this, socialists were disillusioned by the democratic process and the pace of reforms implemented under the democratic system. Some turned to revolutionary measures which they called 'Bolshevization.' Socialist leader Caballero stated in February 1934 that the "only hope of the masses is now in social revolution." In October 1934, a revolutionary insurrection took place, only to be brutally repressed by troops led by General Francisco Franco.
In 1936, the political geography of Spain changed once again as the leftist Popular Front - comprising left-wing Republicans, worker parties, and anarchists - won against the National Front - essentially the right wing counterpart of the Popular Front - in the February elections. Amidst this rapid political fluctuation, and in the dawn of the Spanish Civil War, came the advent of the Spanish Falange.


II. Falange in the Pre-Civil-War Years, 1933-1936



Early Fascist Movements

            The Falange was not the first to introduce fascism into Spain. The first person to introduce the fascist idea into Spain was Ernesto Gimenez Caballero. He publicly announced his fascism, which was directly derived from Rome, in 1929 and was immediately ostracized by politicians and political critics.
While Caballero was the first declared advocate of fascism, the first person to organize a fascist organization was Ramiro Ledesma Ramos, an underemployed university graduate. He named his organization Juntas de Ofesiva Nacional-Sindicalista (JONS) and its weekly publication La Conquista del Estado. JONS aimed at a 'national syndicalist' state but tried to avoid use the labeling since it reminded of Italian fascism, against which JONS wanted to draw a clear line.

Early Years of the Falange
In October of 1933 Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera (son of the former dictator Primo de Rivera) founded a new fascist movement called the Falange Espanola (Spanish Phalanx). The Spanish political situation was a very likely situation for a fascist movement to develop in full scale, for fascism usually thrived upon national crisis and projected itself as the ultimate resolution to all national crisis.
In 1934, the Falange Espanola merged itself with the other already-existing fascist movement, the JONS, and renamed itself Falange Espanola de las Juntas de Ofensiva Nacional-Sindacalista (Spanish Phalanx of National Syndicalist Assault Groups).
There were several symbols that represented the Falange movement (now the Falange Espanola de las JONS): Like the Italian fascists and German Nazis, they adopted a colored shirt as their party uniform - blue shirts in the case of the Spanish Falange. Their emblem was the famous 'yoke and arrows' which had been the emblem of Ferdinand and Isabella and the Falange flag was colored black and red. Furthermore, the settled political ideal of the Falange was Catholic, authoritarian, and Fascist.
However, even after its merger with the JONS in 1934, the Falange was primarily characterized by insignificance in Spanish politics until the Civil War broke out in 1936. During this period, Falangism seemed so cautious and averse to direct action that the rightist critics labeled the movement 'franciscanism' instead of fascism. The underperformance of the Falange during this period has several fundamental reasons other than the supposed insufficient leadership. First, the Spaniards traditionally lacked nationalism which was usually the rally point of fascist movement in other countries. And second, much of Spain was still rural and provincial, especially the north; limited secularization hindered the rural farmers from embracing new political ideologies.
In the elections of 1936 the Falange took an independent stance. While the entire Spanish political spectrum was divided into the Popular Front and the National Front, it did not side with any coalition. Though it may seem likely that the Falange should have sided with the radical rightists in the National Front, it did not, for the the founding principles of the Falange intended it to be a pure and independent movement without having to compromise with other political factions - be it conservative or progressive. As a result, the Falange registered only 0.7 percent of all ballots cast within Spain and did not win any seats in the Spanish parliament. Still, there were certain regions where the Falange fared better than in other regions such as Madrid and Cadiz. Nevertheless, it is undeniable that the 1936 elections revealed the impotency of Spanish fascism. This remained to be the situation until the Falange arrived at a turning point during the Spanish Civil War.

The 27 Point Program & Corporate Syndicalism
Unlike many other fascist movements, the Falange did develop an official program, the Twenty-seven Points, before the close of 1934. Through these doctrines, the Falange proved itself to be a classic fascist formulation. In terms of politics, the 27 Point Program rejected all potential sources of division, from regional separatism and class warfare to even the existence of political parties and a parliamentary system. The Falange believed in a single-party totalitarian government. In terms of economics, the 27 Point Program called for the development of a complete national syndicalist state. Though private property were to remain intact, banking and credit facilities were to be nationalized and large landed estates expropriated and divided. The Falanged intended to turn Spain into a gigantic system of producers where various syndicates of various fields would all work toward national economic unity.
The 27 Point Program highlighted the Falange's unwillingness to compromise with any other political groups in its last clause which ruled out any change to the party's current designation and title. The Falange intended to stand and succeed alone and considered any other conservative parties as rivals, not potential allies.
Falangism also differed from other forms of fascism in that Catholicism was an integral part of its identity. Catholicism was identified as the glorious tradition of Spain, signifying Spain's special role in the dissemination of Christianity throughout its frontiers. The Falangists' concept of the "new man" was similar to the traditional Catholic hero, while adding few modern components to the traditional concept. Other forms of fascism did embrace religion as well, but were not as integral as was to Falangism.

Jose Antonio
The single most influential person to the Falange before Franco subordinated the movement was undoubtedly Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera. Unlike conventional fascist leaders, he was repelled by the violence inevitably associated with fascism. He even went on to stop using the term 'fascist' by 1934 and the term 'totalitarian' by 1935. Jose Antonio's such "humanism" was admired by political leaders of the postfascist era. However Jose Antonio viewed violence, he was strongly adhered to the fascist goals in politics. He also admired both Mussolini and Hitler.


III. The Spanish Civil War & Falange's Subordination to Franco, 1936 to 1939



Post-Election Instability and the Falange Expansion

            The unstable political situation that ensued after the 1936 elections that eventually led to the Spanish Civil War was a turning point for the Falange. At the time, the Falange, like any fascist party would do during times of political turmoil, was organizing riots and disorders, and engaging in numerous acts of violence and conspiracy to overthrow the Republic.
Jose Antonio was arrested by the Republic a few weeks before the Civil War broke out and was tried for the trouble that his organization was causing. Eventually Jose Antonio was prosecuted in prison, more as a scapegoat than for the atrocities committed by the individual.
The Spanish Civil War was finally triggered in the July of 1936, only few months after the elections earlier that year had bestowed victory to the Popular Front. This shift of political power from the conservative CEDA to the leftists left the rightists disillusioned and dissatisfied with the status quo. As a result, rightists moved from the parliamentarians(the National Front, represented by CEDA) who had failed them to the extra-parliamentary Falange. The non-compromise policy of the Falance proved to be beneficial in this situation for it became one of the few viable alternative rightist groups after the disintegration of the National Front and CEDA. Thousands of members from the CEDAs joined the Falange. Especially for the members of CEDA's violent and fascistic youth movement, JAP, their transition to Falange was somewhat even natural. Falange's membership grew to several hundred thousand within the first year of the Civil War.

Subordination under Franco
Jose Antonio after his capture, warned the Falange against being the 'supernumeraries in a movement that does not intend to install the National Syndicalist state ... but intends a rather to reinstate a conservative bourgeois mediocrity ... adorned ... with the choreographic accompaniment of our Blue Shirts'. Though he did not live to see it actually happen, his concern realized in the following April; Franco, the leading general of the revolutionaries, decided to take over the Falange movement.
Several reasons explain how Franco could easily overtake the movement. First, the rapid expansion of the movement was not something acquired in its own right. It was the political instability caused by the military rebels that enabled the Falange to grow so suddenly. And during the war, Franco became the head of the armed forces and also the head of the state, making him ever more powerful. Second, the Falange itself was split into a right and a left wing - the right wing thought generally in accordance with Franco while the left wing believed strongly in social reform - dividing its political focus into two.
There were also several needs that Franco needed to meet by subordinating the Falange. First, he was concerned to avoid the "Primo de Rivera error," which was what the former Spanish dictator of the 1920s suffered from a lack of clear doctrines and political institutions. The Falange's motto "One, great, and free!" well-suited Franco's political goals and the movement's strong Catholic sentiment added to its appeal. Second, as the Falange grew in size, Franco found it strategically critical to subordinate the Falange. Franco was especially concerned about the afore mentioned left wing of the Falange which could possibly develop into an uncontrollable situation if not dealt with in the early stage.
The moment General Franco himself became the head of the Falange, the movement's course of action was forever altered. To start with, the Falangist 27 Points Program was reduced to the 26 Points Program - the deletion of the last point now made it possible to amend or change any part of the remaining 26 Points - and was elevated as the official state doctrine of the new Nationalist Spain. Though it seemed as if the Falangist Program gained significant importance, Franco specifically announced that the program was only the beginning what could be readily modified or elaborated in the future.
Also, as Franco assumed the leadership position of the Falange, he forced mergers with other nationalist parties such as the Carlists, the Monarchists, and what was left of the CEDA. With this, he renamed the organization, Falange Espanola Tradicionalista (Traditionalist Spanish Phalanx, FET). The Falange no longer consisted of only Falangists; it was now a union of various rightist groups who were willing to join. This was resented by the Falange, for it wanted to be the single party of the new state. Manuel Hedilla, the Falangist leader, was sent to jail for his such mutinous response to Franco¡¯s decision.
The Falange, was still certainly an important component of the new Franco regime. Falangists were often made government ministers, appointed to top state administrative positions and ran much of the municipal governments. But the Falange was never allowed to monopolise the regime, and it always had to move within the larger FET. In other words, the Falange was a special cog of the system, but one among other components.


IV. Spain, Fascist or Not ? (1939-)


            During the following decade after the Civil War, Spain was generally considered as a "fascist regime" to those outside of Spain. However, whether Franquism can be equated with fascism is a debatable topic. Early Franquism, certainly contained a major component of fascism, accepting many of the original Falange doctrines. However, at the same time, Franquism was restricted within a right-wing, Catholic, and semipluralist structure and would better fit into the category of "semi-fascism".


V. Conclusion


            Falangism can be summarized as the Spanish version of fascism. Though it was different from the Italian Fascism or the German Nazism in that it had a stronger religious factor and a weaker nationalistic factor, and in that it never gained the absolute over Spain, it was an ideology embraced by the desperate mass in desperate times. In its original form, before it changed into FET, it pursed complete national syndicalism and a totalitarian one-party government which are conventional ideals of fascism. In the end, the Falange and Falangism was absorbed into Franco's government and Franquism, and never saw its original form again. But it continued to influence the Franquist state as it was one of the fundamental cornerstones of the dictatorship in its early stage.


VI. Bibliography

1.      Salvado, Francisco. Twentieth-Century Spain. New York: St. Martin's P, 1999
2.      Morgan, Philip. Fascism in Europe, 1919-1945. London: Routledge, 2002. accessed from Questia
3.      Payne, Stanley G. A History of Fascism, 1914-1945. London: UCL Press, 1995. accessed from Questia
4.      De Meneses, Filipe Ribeiro. Franco and the Spanish Civil War. London: Routledge, 2001. accessed from Questia
5.      Kamen, Henry. A Concise History of Spain. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1973. accessed from Questia
6.      Pierson, Peter. The History of Spain. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1999. accessed from Questia