Spain under General Franco

Francisco Franco Bahamonde popularly known as General Franco was a military dictator who ruled over Spain from 1939 until his death in 1975. General Franco came to power by sheer dint of courage and by holding on fiercely to his ideals. He was a conservative who believed in monarchy. He was against the establishment of a Republic in Spain. In the 1936 elections the leftist Popular Front came to power. Trying to overthrow the Republic there was coup which failed but which led to the Spanish Civil War. Franco played an active role in the coup. When other generals of this faction died Franco became the sole leader. Franco had the support of Nazi Germany and the King of Italy. The Republican side too had support from Soviet Union and Mexico. After 2years of civil war, Franco became victorious and lived long enough to take complete control of the state.

Historical Significance

Spain was a monarchy from 1887 to 1931 under Alfonso XIII. However from 1923 the real power was with Primo de Rivera who was a military dictator. Though he was a dictator he was a supporter of constitutional liberalism as well. He looked up to Mussolini and wanted Spain to follow the steps of Italy Fascism. De Rivera had public support as well. The main ideals of the supporters of De Rivera were religion and patriotism. Since religion was the main motive he got support of the conservative catholic people who belonged to the middle class. Unlike armed fascism of the Italy Spain followed dictatorship that was closely connected to Catholic Church.

De Rivera could not reform the constitution nor legitimize the ideology and in 1929 resistance began against the dictatorship which had the support of students and intellectuals. In 1930 de Rivera resigned which ended the parliamentary monarchy. Along with this modern liberalism also came to an end. People started turning to Republicanism after 50 years and free elections were held after 60 years. The republicans won but they had to deal with a lot of problems like unemployment, slackened agricultural reforms and in general socio-political problems. Apart from this there were issues regarding practise and freedom of religion and also in the educational system. Factions of people did not want church to interfere too much into their lives. There were civil marriages and divorces. All these issues especially about the church and its control brought about an opposition to the republic.

The Republic had its share of other problems; its military reforms were not stable. They wanted to reduce military budget, reduce the number of officers and democratize the forces. None of these reforms were implemented. All this led to the win of conservatives in 1933 and parts of many reforms were taken off. The agrarian reforms were put to an end which worsened the lot of the farmers. Wages were lowered and confiscated lands were given back to the owners.  Between 1934 and 1935 radicalization of workers took place. In 1934 the right and the Radical party joined together. This was seen as a fascist take over by the left and they announced a nation-wide strike. This strike was not very successful and quelled by a Foreign Legion commanded by General Francisco Franco. This was the first prominent move of Franco.

The conservative government also face corruption scandal and fresh elections were held. Left won these elections by a narrow margin. After the elections there was chaos with each party blaming the other for electoral fraud. The Popular Front, the left was overthrown amidst this chaos and the army under the command of General Franco took over.

Economic Implications

Economy of Spain was ravaged after the Civil War. Many workers were killed. Infrastructure was demolished, and daily business almost came to a standstill. Franco had a big task at hand and he could not save the economy quickly. It took him almost a decade to improve the economy even a little. Initially autarky was practised in Spain which meant that all international trade was cut off. This had a devastating effect. Thousands of people died of starvation and it was called the Years of Hunger. Black market had an upward swing. In 1940, inspired by Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera’s corporative principles, The Vertical Trade Union was established.  It was created to end the class struggle and encouraged the workers and owners to work together.

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When Spain went into the brink of bankruptcy in 1959, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and USA put pressure to change the policy to a free market economy. The old guard was changed in spite of Franco’s opposition.  Only when the liberals were given more power the economy picked up. Many development policies were formed and then here was growth in the economy. In the absence of social reforms concurrent with the economic reforms there was an exodus of people to different countries especially other European countries and South America. This helped Spain in two ways; one Spain got rid of the surplus population and second foreign money started to pour into the country. International companies established their firms in Spain. Spain became the second fastest growing country after Japan. This period of economic growth after 1959 was called ‘Spanish Miracle’.

Problems of the Economic Policies

  • No other trade union other than the Vertical Trade Union was allowed to flourish. In fact the union and the political party affiliated to it were strongly repressed.
  • The economic reforms were not followed up by political reforms and repressions continued which was a big block for the economic reforms.
  • In spite of new ventures, salary was low. Labour health or other regulations supporting the work force were not heard of.
  • The period between 1970 and 1980 also brought a little lag in the economic progress because of the ‘oil shocks’

Political Implications

General Franco was at the helm of an authoritarian regime and he continued to be the supreme power till his death in 1975. The coins of Spain had these words engraved on it- “Caudillo by the grace of God.” The word supreme is apt because he was the military head and head of the government as well. He had powers to appoint and dismiss ministers. Even when his health was frail, his word was the final. Franco was a soldier first and so his policies were along military lines and he was a nationalist. So he did not have any specific political ideology but worked against who were ‘anti-Spain’. He considered himself to be the saviour of Spain. The political structures had a pragmatic approach. There was flexibility in his approach and this changed according to the national ad international situations. Seven fundamental laws were created which were like constitutionalism.

  1. The labour Charter which was formulate on March 9th, 1938. This charter ensured that all the citizens had work and a few benefits were given.
  2. The Constituent Law of the Cortes (Spanish Parliament) was formulated in 1942. This was formulated to make the state a constitution.
  3. To impress upon the democratic powers of the world after the victory of Allies in 1945, the bill of rights called the Charter of Rights was formulated.
  4. The Law of Referenda was issued in 1945 where it was decided to take popular referenda for national issues.
  5. The Law of Succession was the first law to be formulated by popular referendum in 1947. It proclaimed Spain would be “Catholic, social, and representative monarchy” with Franco as regent for life.
  6. The Law on the Principles of the National Movement was formulated in 1958. The National Movement was coalition of the right wing groups and was referred to as ‘communion’ rather than party. All the leaders and possible successors of Franco were required to take an undertaking that they would be loyal to the principles.
  7. The Organic Law of the State was formulated in 1966. This law brought some changes into the existing laws and included measures to modernize the Spanish system.

Issues in the Political policies

  • Strikes were considered treason and people were punished if they attempted it.
  • The Cortes was only in name democratic. The members were appointed. They could not form any legislation or vote against the government. Franco had all the power vested on him.
  • Though the Charter of Rights allowed Spaniards to express freely, they could not attack the fundamental principles of the state. So in effect there were no real rights.
  • Though the Law of Referenda was formulated Franco decided when a referendum would become a law.

Social Implication

General Franco was a hardcore military person at heart so social policies did not take any new form – all was centred on authoritarianism.  Non government trade unions were suppressed. The same fate awaited political opponents. Police also played an important role in suppression. Rural and town areas were patrolled by military police called Guardia Civil. Guardia was the chief means of social control. Bigger cities and capitals were under the surveillance of Policia Armada. Franco projected himself as the divine saviour who was empowered to raise Spain from poverty and chaos.

There were many trade unions which ranged from Catholic to communist to anarchist. All were put down with an iron hand and outlawed. Late 1960s and early 1970s saw many revolts but they were suppressed too.  Till his death Franco signed the death penalties of his opponents, this, despite the fact that there were international campaigns requesting him to desist from doing so.

Government initiatives were irregular. Execution of many of the reforms depended on the goodwill of the representatives of the government. So there were inequalities in transport facilities, health care and schooling. The only official language of the state was Spanish in spite of the fact there were many other languages were spoken. No other language was taught in school. Publications in other languages were done discreetly.  In 1960 this was relaxed a little.

Cultural Implications

Franco was not very religious in the beginning but he won over the people in the name of religion especially after World War II. Catholicism was the state religion. As a result the church took over political responsibilities and even played a key role in policing the citizens. Some government jobs needed a conduct certificate from a priest. This was a complete turnover form the Spanish society during the republican years before Franco. The civil marriages and divorces which were validated in Republican Spain became null and void. Marriage and divorce had to be validated by the church.  Abortions and contraception were not allowed.  Names of the children had to be Christian.

Children are the agents of change and Spain under Franco ensured that all children were exposed only to Christianity. Teachers who were leftist were dismissed from the schools. Women were relegated to a position that was least progressive. A woman’s role was to be with her family, loving to her parents and faithful to husband. She had to reside with her family. All the progressive laws formulated during the Republican government were declared null and void. The woman could not become university professors or judges. They could not even testify in a trial. However this situation changed a little in 60s and 70s.


The dictatorship period in Germany was popularly known as Nazi Germany; in Italy it was known as Fascist Germany. In Spain there was no general term but it was known as Francoism after General Franco who loomed as a towering personality till his death. His governance lasted for more than thirty years. Francoism was synonymous with many terms like conservatism, anti-communism, nationalism, authoritarianism, national Catholicism, anti-liberalism and the most with militarism. There was no room for political opposition. The Franco government lasted for so many years and the UN had become a strong global body by then. In 1946 the United Nations Security Council declared the Franco government as Fascist and denied its recognition until it evolved into a government that had more representation.