The Case for Franco

I

I CAN well imagine the dismay of those Americans who had traveled in Spain over the news which has come to them from the Peninsula in the past eighteen months. It was so beautiful a country, its people were so courteous and so amiable, their life so pleasant, peaceful, and dignified, that the thought of them at mortal strife might have seemed not only tragic but incredible. A profound peace brooded over those wide shimmering plains and those lovely mountain valleys; those friendly peasants following their oxen or calling home their cattle; those happy families engaged in adoring their adorable children on their golden sea beaches; the grave and pious crowds which thronged their churches, even to the porch, for Sunday Mass; those gay religious festivals; those ancient sleepy cities, every narrow lane and trellised courtyard hinting at beauty and romance — how almost fantastic in its horror the thought that civil war had broken into such a paradise. And not civil war as we knew it in England and you knew it in America, waged within certain limits of decency and humanity by disciplined forces, but civil war to the knife, altogether ferocious and anarchical, as if hell itself were let loose, as if a beautiful face were suddenly distorted with fury to the likeness of a fiend.

Such was the first and general impression; but the handful of foreigners who lived in the Peninsula or had closely followed events and tendencies since the establishment of the Republic were, if not less horrified, at least less surprised. They had even seen it coming.

There were the seeds of revolution and of civil war in the minds and policies of the fanatical factions that succeeded the mild government of King Alfonso. Señor Azaña and his friends, demagogues and radicals under the sway of the Grand Orient, egged on by the Socialists, opened vindictive war on the Church and the great landowners. The religious orders were proscribed; mobs were allowed to sack and burn convents and churches; the estates of the grandees were confiscated and many of the landowners themselves were banished to an unhealthy part of Africa. It was a legalized, thinly veiled war against the conservative part of the nation.

Now Spain is fundamentally a religious and conservative country. The forces of the Right, organized under Gil Robles, did not, indeed, succeed in securing an independent majority, but made themselves the strongest single party in the state, defeated the parties of the Left, and formed a coalition with the more moderate radicalism of Senor Lerroux.

The Socialists, defeated at the polls, showed very little respect for that principle of legitimacy which they now profess to cherish. Their leaders, Indalecio Prieto and Francisco Largo Caballero, incited their followers to violence. Señor A. Ramos Oliveira, now press agent to the Spanish Embassy in London, in that case found rebellion natural. ‘Clericalism’ was the bane of progressive politics. ‘Therefore, when three Clerical Ministers entered the Government with the Radical Party, on October 5, 1934, the Revolution broke out’ (The Drama of Spain, 1931-1936).

It was a ferocious but short-lived war. Señor Companys declared for a separate republic in Catalonia, which was speedily repressed; Señor Azaña was found in hiding in Barcelona; the miners of Asturias, made of sterner stuff and armed with their favorite weapons, sticks of dynamite, wrecked their provincial capital of Oviedo. There was some sanguinary fighting, and the rebellion, moreover, served to unmask the sinister power of Soviet Russia in Spain. The Spanish section of the Comintern had been formed as far back as 1920, and a revolutionary school of exiled Catalans had been trained in Moscow; when the Republic offered them immunity they swarmed back into Spain; a stroke in trade-union politics, the affiliation of the National Confederation of Labor to the Profintern, gave the Communists an effective working force of 1,720,000 trade-unionists; for fifteen days the Soviet régime ruled in Asturias, and when it was beaten the official organ of Russian Communism declared with truth, ‘The workers of the Asturias fought for Soviet power under the leadership of the Communists.’

Thus, two years before there was any thought of intervention by Italy and Germany, Soviet Russia had shown its red hand in Spain. And not in Spain only. In the Seventh World Congress of that laboratory of revolution, the Communist International, held at Moscow in 1935, the Secretary-General Dimitrov described the tactics by which Spain would be conquered in the name of Democracy, and the Congress declared, in the presence of Stalin, that ‘ the majority of the proletariat must be won for armed insurrection.’ According to Dimitrov at that Congress, — and it is a noteworthy prediction, — one of the most important means to the end of proletarian revolution would be a United Front Government.

Thus the Muscovite Dracula prepared to enter the fair body of Spain, and so it happened. The Lerroux Coalition — like most coalitions — sank into discredit: the Socialist leader, Prieto, by the promise of autonomy, worked on the simplicity of the Basques and so divided the Catholic vote; the elections of February 1936 were a narrow victory for the Popular Front of Radicals, Socialists, Communists, and Anarchists. In a Cortes of 473, this combination had a majority of 39, although it polled half a million less votes than the parties of the Centre and the Right — and this despite intimidation at the polls.

‘At the urge of irresponsible agitators,’ Señor Alcalá Zamora, the ex-President, afterwards stated in the Journal de Genève, ‘the mob seized the balloting papers, with the result that false returns were sent in from many places.’ Moreover, as he goes on to say, the Popular Front immediately appointed a committee to ‘verify’ the elections, which they did with so much zeal that ‘ in certain provinces where the opposition had been victorious all the mandates were annulled, and the candidates who were friendly to the Popular Front, although they had been beaten, were proclaimed Deputies.’ By such means the Popular Front majority of 39 was raised to 118, and the opposition left practically powerless. The President, the Republican Alcalá Zamora, although his mandate was not due to expire until December 11, 1937, was arbitrarily dismissed, and Señor Azaña, by that time a mere helpless tool of the Socialists, was put in his place.

Having thus confirmed their power, these fanatical factionaries proceeded to behave as if the rest of Spain had no right to exist. The revolutionary mob had in part already taken charge. In the short space of time between February 16 and June 16, 1936, the country had gone down into chaos. With 113 general and 228 partial strikes to dislocate industry, business had become impossible. The Conservative Party was in a state of siege; 69 of its offices had been destroyed and 312 attacked; its newspapers suffered the same fate, 10 newspaper offices being demolished and 33 assaulted; 209 people were killed and 1287 injured in the streets; 160 churches were burnt down and 251 partly destroyed. In this ferocious attack on the religious and political faith of a great part of the Spanish people, the police and magistracy were either powerless or forbidden to interfere; 30,000 truculent rebels of the 1934 revolt, and with them a horde of criminals, had been liberated from jail upon the political victory of their friends and patrons; employers were forced to take back into their employment the ringleaders of previous disorders; industry had become impossible, trading precarious; the whole country sloped steeply down to anarchy and ruin.

II

The same forces which worked to destroy the religion and disrupt the civil life of Spain worked also to undermine her army. General Franco, who had always set his face against any military intervention in the politics of Spain, in June 1936 was constrained to address a grave warning to Casares Quiroga, then Minister for War. ‘Lately,’ he wrote, ‘commanding officers, most of them of brilliant reputation and highly respected in the Army, have been deprived of their posts . . . and these have been bestowed upon subordinates classified by 99 per cent of their colleagues as men poorly endowed with the qualities those posts demand.’

There is evidence besides that the Communists, in the spring of 1936, were themselves plotting a coup d’état. Thus, in the Left Socialist paper Claridad, for April 11 of that year, there is the report of a meeting held the day before in the Europa Cinema, Madrid, at which Largo Caballero accepted the programme drawn up for Spain by the Moscow Comintern in July 1935. And Señor Diez, the Secretary of the Communist Party, described the revolutionary plan: ‘Once the unification of the trade-unions has been effected, we must see to the formation of the confederation of workers and peasants so that we may be able to use them to replace the government the day we overthrow it. We must also constitute a united Militia of the Proletariat which will be the embryo of the Red Army when the Revolution triumphs in Spain.’

They went further: in the preceding March a group of experts in revolution arrived in Barcelona from Russia, and two Russian ships, the Neva and the Jevek, landed arms for the Communists at Seville and Algeciras. Moreover, the Communists in Paris sent to their comrades of the Red Militia in Madrid detailed plans for attacks on barracks and the assassination of officers. Generals were to be attacked, preferably in their rooms, by ‘picked men who will not recoil before any obstacle and who will deal severely with anyone who opposes them without regard to age or sex.’ All party leaders were to be arrested ‘ under pretext of affording them protection.’ On the same pretext ‘prominent capitalists’ were to be seized: ‘With regard to these, violence must be avoided unless resistance is offered, and they must be made to hand over the sums in their current accounts at the bank, as well as all stocks and shares. In cases where they attempt to mislead, the culprit is to be removed, as well as all the members of his family, without any exception’ (Écho de Paris, January 14, 1937).

There is reason to believe that the date of this revolution had actually been fixed for May 1, 1936; it was postponed to May 10 and then to June 29, and then again put off.

‘There are in my possession,’ says Mr. F. T. Rogers, in his Spain: A TragicJourney, ‘photostatic copies of plans seized in Anarchistic headquarters which detail fully the projects of Anarchists and Communists to seize the full power in Madrid, even before the murder of Calvo Sotelo.’

The motive of that crime is shrewdly suspected by M. Jacques Bardoux. ‘When,’ he says in Chaos in Spain, ‘a war is wanted, it is elementary strategy to get the enemy to declare it.’ If that were the motive, it could hardly have been better calculated. Senor Sotelo was one of the leaders of the Conservative opposition, a statesman, eloquent, courageous, patriotic. He had just delivered in the Cortes a scathing indictment of the Frente Popular, the anarchy which it patronized, the ruination which it was causing; and ‘La Pasionaria,’ a wild woman of the Communist Party, had shouted: ‘You have made your last speech!’

In the small hours of the morning his home was raided by fifteen police under Captain Moreno, in Car No. 17 of the Republican Police Force; he was dragged out of his house and his bullet-pierced body was found in a neighboring cemetery. The facts were notorious; Ministers professed to be shocked, but the Government did nothing either to punish the criminals or to prevent a repetition of the crime. The ‘bourgeoisie,’ the ‘capitalist class,’ the civilian and the officer of the Army, saw their impending doom in the fate of their political leader. They were faced with the onus of revolt, and on their behalf General Franco accepted it. But it was fundamentally a movement of defense and of preservation. The decent people of Spain had to defend themselves or die.

III

This dreadful dilemma is manifest in all that happened in Government territory when the civil war began. The Government by decree disbanded the Army and handed out arms promiscuously to Socialist mobs, the released rebels of the Asturias rebellion, often to mere boys and to criminals. There were swift massacres of the officers in various garrisons; in part of the Navy the officers were seized by the sailors and thrown into the sea; gangs of ruffians, armed by the Government, instigated by the Communists, terrorized both cities and villages. People suspected of Conservative sympathies — the churchgoers, the well-to-do, those who wore hats and white collars — were accused of such crimes as ‘Fascism,’ lined up against walls, or taken to the cemetery gates and massacred in droves. In some cases the lists of subscribers to Conservative newspapers were considered sufficient evidence, in others envy and spite supplied the fatal testimony; in Madrid ‘popular tribunals,’ like Fouquier-Tinville’s in revolutionary Paris, tried batches of the bourgeoisie for offenses unknown to any penal code and handed them over to the firing squads. Some methodical mind in the Police Bureau devised a system of photographing the victims for purposes of identification, and from these and other records it has been possible to compile a sum of these massacres, and we may therefore accept the estimate of a correspondent of the Morning Post, in May 1937, who put the total to April 1937 at about 60,000, a figure confirmed by a passage in Mr. Knoblaugh’s Correspondent in Spain: ‘The accurate number of those killed behind the lines in the Spanish War will never be known. In their official reports to their respective governments the American, French, and English governments were said to have agreed that 60,000 for the Madrid area, 30,000 for the Valencia area, and 50,000 for the Barcelona area, would be conservative estimates.’

These figures, if they err, err on the under side. An old and trusted friend, Señor Luis Bolin, for many years London correspondent of the Madrid newspaper, A. B. C., and Press Censor with General Franco, told me some six months ago that after a careful survey it was estimated by those competent to judge that no less than three hundred thousand civilians and noncombatants had been slaughtered in Government territory since the outbreak of the Civil War.

As to the persons thus ‘liquidated,’ the priesthood may be supposed to come first: it is known that at least 6000 were so killed, besides several thousands of the ‘ religious ’ — monks, nuns, lay brothers, choristers, and so forth. Officers of the Army and Navy, members of such political parties of the Right as the Acción Popular, ‘capitalists,’ bankers and merchants, could expect no mercy, unless indeed they trekked their way over the frontier, or were hidden by faithful retainers, or found refuge in the embassies, or were kept in prison as ‘hostages.’ The fate of these ‘reactionaries’ was, possibly, to be expected; the progressive mind will be more shocked to hear that even the Radicals did not escape the general doom of the Spanish bourgeoisie. Thus the Radical ex-Prime Minister of Spain, Señor Alexander Lerroux, records: ‘In the city and province of Valencia not only the Radical Deputies have been murdered, but in certain villages all the members of the Radical Party have been exterminated. At Málaga and Alicante the Radicals were literally hunted down. The blood toll taken of the Radical Party in Spain is far greater than that taken of the Church and, perhaps, than that taken of the Civil Guard, which was so savagely sacrified’ (L’Illustration, January 30, 1937).

IV

So much for the treatment of life under this democratic Government of Spain; let us now consider its treatment of property. It might be supposed from Socialist propaganda that the land belonged to a handful of grandees who between them rack-rented a helpless peasantry. As a matter of fact, the large landowner is an exception. The radical measure of expropriation of 1932 applied only to eight out of fifty Spanish provinces, for the simple reason that in the rest further division was considered impracticable. In these eight provinces the estates of over 620 acres totaled 16,000,000 acres, divided among 8500 owners, which is an average of under two thousand acres per landowner; there were, besides, 55 estates of an average of 2365 acres; but even in those provinces of large estates there wore, on the other hand, no less than 585,406 landowners, who held between them 10,600,000 acres, or an average of some 18 acres per owner.

These figures reduce the problem to its true proportions. As a matter of fact, the Act of 1932 dealt with a total of 1,440,000 acres belonging to 99 grandees, an average of about 14,545 acres per grandee. It actually decreed the expropriation of some 660,000 acres, of which, by the end of 1933, one third had been divided among 8552 peasants. Even so, the measure was considered vindictive and of little practical utility to the peasants concerned. In some cases these peasants actually appealed to be left under their old landowners, whom they knew and trusted. Now, however, Socialist propaganda asserts that 7 1/2 million acres have been divided among the peasantry, which, if true, means some such revolution as dispossessed the kulaks in Russia, a revolution in which the small holders themselves were dispossessed and the whole agricultural system reduced to chaos.

As for the Church in Spain, vulgarly supposed to be fabulously rich: she has indeed infinite treasures, cathedrals, works of art, jewels dedicated to saints and Madonnas, and the magnificence which has cloaked her for centuries, but these are now nationalized and her means of existence are meagre enough. Already she had been expropriated by a long series of measures of State. In exchange for her properties the concordat of 1860 allowed her a revenue barely sufficient for the support of her clergy, her schools, and her hospitals, and in 1931 the Republic decreed the confiscation even of this revenue. The Church, then, in Spain was miserably poor; as for the religious orders, when the Republic set out to confiscate the property of the Jesuits it found an adverse balance of debt of two million dollars! What the Revolution has done is not so much to confiscate as to destroy. The churches were burnt; the sacred images and holy vessels were broken down for the gold, the silver, and the jewels of which they were made, and this spoliation was carried out with so much violence and knavery that the State profited little by the process.

As to private property in commerce and in industry, it can hardly be said to have survived the Frente Popular. The gold reserve of the Bank of Spain was taken and exported in violation of a fundamental law; house property was ‘socialized’ and no one knows at this moment to whom it belongs.

‘Communist, Anarchist and Socialist Committees,’ says Mr. Knoblaugh, ‘raced each other to the choicest properties, the most luxurious homes, the most profitable industries. The first one to arrive posted a printed announcement, “Incautado por la C.N.T. ” or “ Esta Casa ha sido Incautada por la U.G.T.” (if the Anarcho-Syndicalists or Socialists won the race) or “ Controlado por el Partido Communista” if the Communists had won.’ Those concerns which were seized were also robbed; their stock, their balances, and their safe deposits were taken; their management was put in the hands of committees of workmen, and ignorance and rapacity soon reduced them to ruin.

Foreign enterprises did not escape. The American Telephone Company at Barcelona was taken over by a Soviet and so mismanaged that the subscribers had to be forced by threats of death to continue their subscription. The Barcelona Traction Light and Power Company and its subsidiaries, mainly British concerns (although registered under Spanish law), were taken over in the same way, and three million pesetas in gold belonging to one of them (the Ebro Company) was taken out of its private safe in the Royal Bank of Canada, Barcelona. In that great British concern, the Rio Tinto, the Labor leaders took over the mines and ‘conceived the idea that the English staff would be held as hostages.’ Only when General Franco conquered that part of Spain were practicable working conditions restored.

In such manner the whole commerce and industry of ‘loyalist’ Spain were reduced to ruination; the foreign staffs were ‘evacuated,’ the Spanish owners ‘liquidated.’ Thus stands that part of Spain under its Government to-day its Government that is represented as a free and progressive democracy.

We are commonly told that, after all, it is a choice between two evils; that if there are excesses on the Government side, the alternative is the jack boot of a Fascist — a military dictatorship. The truth is that, although General Franco is a regular soldier, he is not a Fascist, and that he leads not a military force merely, but the greater part of the Spanish nation. He is even now in possession of two thirds of Spanish territory, and all the islands save one; moreover, wherever he has gone he has been hailed as a liberator by the noncombatant part of the population. He is defending law, order, and civilization in Spain, and if he has the assistance of Italy and Germany it is because they also feel themselves threatened by the same conspiracy. But he remains independent; the Nationalist cause is financed by Spanish money, and when that cause is won Spain will emerge poor indeed, and sadly ravaged, but in possession of her own territory and her own soul.