LAST December, shortly before Christmas, one of those trivial accidents occurred which can weigh so heavily in the fate of nations. Francisco Franco was out hunting in the woods surrounding his palace at El Pardo, near Madrid, when his rifle blew up, tearing a deep gash in his left hand. The 69-year-old Generalissimo was rushed to a Madrid clinic, where, before submitting to anesthetics for the operation, he summoned four of his closest military colleagues: Admiral Luis Carrero Blanco, who has served him for the last twenty years as Cabinet secretary; and generals Antonio Barroso, Minister of War; Camilo Alonso Vega, Minister of the Interior; and Augustín Muñoz Grandes, Captain General of Spain and the highest-ranking officer in the Spanish Army.

This precautionary measure was typical of the Caudillo’s pragmatic unconcern for constitutional procedures. By the terms of the Act of Succession of 1947, it is the twelve-man Council of the Realm which is supposed to take over if anything happens to the Spanish Chief of State. Its octogenarian chairman, Esteban de Bilbao, who is also president of the Cortes, was not even consulted by Franco. The fact is that today, as for the past twenty-five years, the army remains the ultimate arbiter of the country’s destiny.

The hunting-rifle accident had its interesting sequel seven months later, when Franco revamped his Cabinet in July. In the interim he had been obliged to take antibiotics to check a gangrenous condition in his hand. Even for a man of Franco’s constitution, a six-month antibiotics treatment is a punishing prescription. By midsummer it was obvious even to Franco himself that he was not necessarily destined to be immortal. Due allowance for the fact was made on July 11, when for the first time the Generalissimo named a vice president of the Council of Ministers, General Augustín Muñoz Grandes, whose job it would be to act both as deputy and immediate successor should Franco be obliged to relinquish the reins.

Even more revealing, perhaps, was Franco’s subsequent decision to retire directly to his property at El Pazo de Meiras in his native Galicia, instead of repairing in July to the summer capital of San Sebastian. He thus turned over the government for two months to another man, something which had not happened in Spain since he took power.

It would be premature to conclude from this that Franco’s twenty-three-year reign is now virtually ended. For in making Muñoz Grandes his immediate successor, Franco once again demonstrated that Galician peasant’s guile which has so long permitted him to play his opponents off against each other. Muñoz Grandes, who suffers from stomach ulcers and is only two years younger than Franco, could hardly aspire to be anything more than an interim ruler. Furthermore, he is only lukewarm about a monarchical restoration and could be depended upon not to stage a quiet coup d’état to bring back the 48vear-old pretender, Don Juan de Bourbon, whom Franco would like to eliminate from the running.

The Cabinet shake-up

The Cabinet shake-up of July was typical of Franco’s political subtlety in another respect. The government was “liberalized,”but at the same time the number of general officers in Cabinet posts was increased from three to seven. The velvet glove only thinly disguised the iron hand.

The July shake-up did. however, constitute a clear victory for the most dynamic elements in the Cabinet, the pro-Europeans, led by Fernando María Castiella, the Foreign Minister, and the Ministers of Commerce and Finance, Alberto Ullastres and Mariano Navarro Rubio. The last two have been the architects of Spain’s remarkable economic recovery, which, beginning with the devaluation of the peseta and the stabilization program of 1959, has resulted in a gradual buildup of the country’s gold and foreign exchange reserves to nearly the billion-dollar mark.

Prior to last July, their efforts to modernize the Spanish economy and to open it to the stimulus of foreign investment and free-enterprise competition were hampered by the ill-disguised hostility of the Falangist Minister of Industry, Joaquín Planell Riera, a notorious champion of economic autarky. His successor, Gregorio Lopez Bravo, the 39-year-old head of the Foreign Exchange Institute, was clearly appointed to pursue a policy of attracting foreign capital. A close associate of Ullastres and Navarro Rubio’s, Bravo has been linked, like them, to the Opus Dei, the increasingly influential Catholic secular movement, which has established a powerful grip on Spain’s major banking and business institutions.

Though conservative in its political orientation, the Opus Dei has proved it elf to be pro-European, and to that extent progressive in its economic policies, which are now more than ever aimed at obtaining Spain’s admission to the Common Market. Some 41 percent of Spain’s exports went to Common Market countries last year, with another 25 percent going to the countries of the European Free Trade area. Spain’s permanent exclusion from the Common Market could one day become a serious economic handicap for a country whose citrus fruit exports equal those of Italy, Israel, Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco combined. It was this economic prospect which led the Spanish government in February to make a formal request to Brussels for association with the Common Market.

The workers and the Church

The immediate consequences of the policy of economic Europeanization could hardly have been foreseen by its authors. Full Spanish membership in the European Economic Community would automatically entail a sweeping liberalization of the existing regime, since Common Market members must subscribe to certain democratic principles, beginning with the rights to form labor unions and to stage strikes, outlawed in present-day Spain.

The internal stresses created by the Spanish government’s new economic tack were dramatically brought out last April, when an unprecedented strike wave broke out in the coal mines of Asturias in northern Spain. Ten or fifteen years ago the strikes would have been brutally quelled; hundreds of strikers would have been arrested, and a few tried and shot as a warning to the rest.

A country dedicated to authoritarian rule and economic self-sufficiency can do this kind of thing fairly easily; not so a country which is trying to prove to the world that it is undergoing a process of liberalization and which has just applied for admission to an international customs union. The result was the Spanish government’s unprecedented passivity, with, as its inevitable concomitant, a steady spread of the strikes, eventually involving 150,000 workers.

In mid-May the country was treated to the extraordinary spectacle of having the chief of the staterun syndicate movement, José Solís Ruiz, make a pilgrimage to Oviedo, in Asturias, to negotiate with the miners’ representatives, who had, by simply going on strike, put themselves officially beyond the law.

Only in early June, after the government had quietly capitulated and granted the northern miners wage raises of from 25 to 30 percent, to keep pace with the increase in the cost of living, did Franco finally dare come out in a speech made in Valencia and attack the right to strike as an instrument of “social division” and a “luxury reserved for rich countries.”

The evident embarrassment of the Franco government in the face of the greatest strike wave the country has seen since the Civil War was due also to the increasing opposition to the regime now manifested by the Spanish Catholic Church. This opposition was given the green light almost from the day John XXIII became Pope four years ago.

Unlike his predecessor, Pope Pius XII, who was above all a diplomat, John XXIII is the son of a peasant family and instinctively understands that the future of Spain and of the Church in Spain is linked with the fate of the peasants and the workers. He does not have his predecessor’s personal reasons for being grateful to Franco for having accorded the Church the best terms it had been granted in a long time in the Concordat of 1953.

It is also probable that the new Pope places less faith in the semisecret Opus Dei, which Pius Xll’s papal nuncio, Cardinal Hildebrando Antoniutti, was given instructions to further in every possible way. Last June, Antoniutti was replaced by a new nuncio, Archbishop Antonio Riberi, long associated with the work of Catholic Action in Italy, who lost no time in making it clear that he would execute the Vatican’s instructions regardless of whether this was pleasing to the Spanish government or not.

The Vatican’s new line

The new line was first intimated in November of 1960, when Enrique Play Deniel, the Cardinal Primate of Spain, sent a letter to José Solís, warning him of trouble if his union officials went on hampering the efforts of the Catholic Action brotherhoods in the workers’ world. It was spelled out in great detail in May of 1961 in the papal encyclical Mater et Magistra, which justified the right to strike.

The reaction of the Spanish Catholic hierarchy to this new Vatican line has been anything but homogeneous. More likely than not, it has been followed obediently rather than enthusiastically by the 84-yearold Cardinal Primate himself, who has never been outspokenly antiFranco. However, Pla y Deniel has loyally followed the Vatican, and when the reactionary bishop of San Sebastían sought to take an independent tack last April by declaring that priests should not engage in social activities, he failed to get endorsement from the Primate.

In February of this year the liberal bishop of Bilbao, Pablo Gurpide, denounced the weakness of social conscience of “those Catholics who think that there are people predestined to enjoy wealth and abundance . . . while others must satisfy themselves with the crumbs fallen from the table of the mighty.”This was followed in March by a warning issued by the archbishop of Seville, Bueno y Monreal, reminding the wealthy landlords of Andalusia of St. James’s stern indictment of the “corruption of riches.” He went on to suggest that the minimum decent wage for a married worker with two children was 110 to 120 pesetas a day ($1.82 to $2.00). The pastoral letter in which this recommendation was contained was read from pulpits in the northern provinces of Biscaya and Guipúzcoa, thus indirectly setting the stage for the strikes of April and May.

The strikes, which began on April 7 at the coal mine of Mieres, where half a dozen face cutters were summarily dismissed for their alleged failure to live up to a stipulated work norm, quickly crystallized into a general demand for a minimum wage of 100 pesetas ($1.66) a day. In Andalusia there were similar demands among agricultural laborers, for a 100 percent raise from 35 to 70 pesetas a day, the 70 pesetas being considered the absolute vital minimum by the archbishop of Seville.

No single organization can claim credit for the strikes. However, it is certain that they received powerful encouragement from the Catholic Action brotherhoods, whose mission it has been, ever since they were set up in 1946, to bring the gospel to the hitherto largely atheistic workers’ world. This encouragement so irritated Franco that in a bellicose speech made before some 12,000 reserve officers on May 29 he denounced the Church’s lay movements as “often the object of Communist infiltrations” and encouraged by “the excesses of certain Basque separatist priests.”

By mid-May the crisis between church and state, exacerbated by arrests of priests and Catholic Action workers, had reached such proportions that a top-level meeting had to be arranged between the Cardinal Primate and the Foreign Minister, whom Franco was considering sending to Rome with the threat of denouncing the 1953 Concordat. In the end a compromise was reached whereby the Church’s apostolic mission was once again emphasized, while the Spanish government worked out a series of new wage agreements in several hundred different enterprises.

Whether the government has managed to prevent further labor unrest remains to be seen. The workers of Spain demonstrated this spring that they could go out on strike, even though this is illegal, and get away with it. Their unexpected success is likely to encourage the increasingly restive students in Madrid and Barcelona to emulate their example, just as it has spurred on the Communists and the Frente de Liberatión Popular—a Castro type of movement—to redouble their proselyting efforts among Spanish workers.

Spain and North Africa

Whatever happens in North Africa in the coming months will almost certainly bring new headaches for the Franco government. Since the French have been willing to abandon Oran — thousands of whose Spanish-speaking inhabitants had to seek refuge in Spain — the Moroccans have begun putting the heat on Madrid to evacuate the enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla. whose inhabitants are 85 percent European. There seems little likelihood that the Franco government, or any other Spanish government, would be willing to envisage any such abandonment of these century-old possessions without some kind of compensation, such as the return to Spain of Gibraltar or Spain’s immediate entry into NATO.

The Moroccan question, indeed, is likely to cast its shadow over the negotiations regarding the prolongation of the Spanish-American Bases agreement of September, 1953, which will end its first ten-year term next year. The southernmost of these bases is the airfield of Morón de la Frontera. near Seville, and it happens to be the only first-rate military airfield covering the Strait of Gibraltar and the Moroccan coastline beyond.

Whether Washington will be willing to consider allowing the Spanish Air Force to use this base in case of hostilities with Morocco is a major diplomatic conundrum. A straight refusal would result in reinforcing that latent anti-Americanism which is all but openly encouraged by the Franco regime, and in driving Spain into a new. neutralist position, with incalculable consequences for the future of western Europe and of the entire Atlantic alliance.