A dictatorship is almost always military, and even dictators without a military rank usually rely on the military. Spain, which survived by no means the only dictator, Francisco Franco, is no exception in this regard. But it could have become such if the leader of the 1936 military rebellion was perhaps the most popular of the enemies of the republican government – Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera.
He was young, perhaps even too young. For a revolutionary this would be an advantage, but for a counterrevolutionary and a dictatorial candidate it would hardly be. Jose Antonio was only 33 years old at the beginning of the officers’ rebellion in Spain. The fact that everything in his homeland will eventually turn into a full-scale civil war, Jose Antonio, most likely, did not know.
The Republicans rushed to shoot the leader of the legendary “Phalanx” in their own way just three months after the famous “Cloudless Sky Over All Spain” sounded on the radio. At this time, Madrid was already under siege, and the right had no doubts about the success of the military coup.
Jose Antonio was born in Jerez de la Frontera, home to one of the most famous wines in the world. He was from a family of Spanish grandees with centuries of ancestry and ancient traditions, and he himself bore the titles of Duke and Marquis. The family was so aristocratic that it could compete with the descendants of both the Habsburgs and the Bourbons in the struggle for the Spanish throne.
But much more important was the fact that the father of José Antonio was General Miguel Primo de Rivera and Orbaneja, the last dictator of Spain with King Alfonso XIII alive. The commander covered with glory, a direct descendant of ministers and governors, field marshals and viceroys came to power as a result of a military coup in 1923.
Miguel Primo de Rivera (pictured) became the main in the “military directory” created with the consent of the monarch, abolished the constitution and introduced the most severe censorship in Spain, which suffered from revolutions. For seven years he headed the government, and he achieved success not only in the war in the colonies on the African continent, but also in the economy, mainly thanks to cooperation with fascist Italy.
However, even such an obstinate Marxist as Leon Trotsky never tired of repeating that in itself “the Primo de Rivera regime was not a fascist dictatorship, for it did not rely on the reaction of the petty bourgeois masses.”
The dictator de Rivera was considered by many to be too “soft” and, it seems, did not take into account that the monarchy in the Iberian Peninsula, both in Spain and in Portugal that joined it, was not very popular by that time. More precisely, it is no longer too popular: kings and emperors reigned there, but almost never ruled.
General M. Primo de Rivera and King Alfonso XIII
Spanish Alfonso XIII, and with him General M. Primo de Rivera, was boldly bold by the revolutionary wave in the early 1930s. The king left Spain only a year after the 60-year-old dictator resigned. Alfonso XIII officially abdicated the throne only in 1941, but Franco, dying, handed over the vacant Spanish throne to his grandson, now disgraced Juan Carlos I.
And the soft dictator Miguel Primo de Rivera left for Paris in January of the same 1930 to die there just two months later. His 26-year-old son Jose Antonio already then decided to continue his father’s work. He forgot about the disputes with him and, in addition to law, went into politics, later becoming the founder of the “Spanish Phalanx” – the likeness of nationalist parties in Italy and Germany.
Caudillo without drive
Growing up without a mother, whom he lost at the age of five, Jose Antonio received an excellent, albeit home education. He knew English and French, studied at the University of Madrid as a lawyer at the age of 19. He became interested in politics while still a student, but in his own way.
The dictator’s son became one of the organizers of the student union, which almost immediately opposed his father’s policy in the field of higher education. Of the leftist ideas, he liked syndicalism the most, and not necessarily in combination with anarchism. Jose Antonio did not become a real far-right even after he studied military affairs in educational institutions in Madrid and Barcelona and served in the army.
In the ninth dragoon regiment of Saint Jaime in the capital of Catalonia, he received the rank of second lieutenant, but the coup participants subsequently still considered him, a secular handsome man and a lawyer by education, too civilian. And this is not surprising, given the contradictions between Jose Antonio and his father and the fact that he created his own law firm and more than once defended supporters of various kinds of liberal ideas.
The latter, however, did not in the least prevent the brilliant aristocrat from becoming a member of the National Monarchist Union. The death of his father and the fall of the monarchy immediately forced him to act. The young politician adopted the views of the Italian Duce Benito Mussolini, then still almost socialist.
In the thirties, all of Spain lived under the republican tricolor
Jose Antonio, a regular visitor to secular salons and political clubs, passed the election sieve without any problems and became a deputy of the Cortes. De Rivera has not yet completely parted with left-wing and liberal ideas, but has already smashed “atheists and anarchists, class Marxists and hypocritical Masons” from the parliamentary tribune.
The budding philosopher Ramiro Ledesma Ramos became a companion of Jose Antonio, and together they opposed the republican system in Spain. However, this has not yet made them allies of the true Spanish monarchists: the Carlists and Alphonsists. After all, Ramos and de Rivera criticized the power of capital, although not from the left, but from the right, and besides, they quickly put together a movement that could distract young Spaniards from the struggle for the return of the monarchy.
In 1933, José Antonio de Rivera announced the creation of the Spanish Phalanx, a nationalist party. The politician who was quickly gaining political points came up with an original idea of a national dictatorship, which should replace the democratic government in the country. The leaders of the “Phalanx” sought, in their words, “to cope with liberal revelry, to protect the people and establish social justice.”
But even earlier, de Rivera and Ramos began publishing the newspaper El Fascio (Fascist). This edition fully corresponded to its name, and then no one doubted that “Phalanx” would never become leftist. From the pages of “Fascist” everyone who promoted the slogans and ideas of socialism was immediately declared an enemy of the nation.
For a while, “Fascist” was not taken seriously by anyone. Only the current republican authorities did not hesitate to respond. The newspaper was banned, the circulation was confiscated, and de Rivera was arrested. However, they were released very quickly, there is still democracy in the country, and he is a deputy, although not a leftist. Three years later, the Communists and Democrats will not repeat their mistake.
But in 1933, the left thought differently, especially since the rebellious son of the late dictator called on all Spaniards to serve not to numerous parties, but to a single Fatherland. If this fatherland is even still republican, then why not, because it was Spain that was recognized by de Rivera and Ramos as the highest value. It is characteristic that the economic program of the Phalanx was very openly directed not only against communism, but also against capitalism.
And then there’s the strange alliance with right-wing syndicalists, who were inspired by the ideas of the Russian thinker Prince P.A.Kropotkin. However, it only led to the fact that they finally parted with other anarchists, and many immediately joined the ranks of the “Phalanx”. It is interesting that “Phalanx” borrowed from the anarchists not only the ideas of workers’ self-government, but also the colors: red and black.
But the power of capital was criticized by the Phalangists, I repeat, not from the left, but from the right. They did not recognize capitalism because it rejects spiritual values, and separates private property from the interests of a private person. It is believed that Ledesma Ramos instilled in his friend a rejection of the traditional capitalist system, which deprived a person of individuality, torn away from national traditions, family and faith.
The ideal of the two friends was a medieval knight-monk, but by no means Don Quixote. The capitalists got them literally for everything – for the fact that they turned people into goods, and people, as they would say today, into something like biomass, which is supposed to only be produced and consumed.
Such views turn someone into communists, and others into rabid fascists. Jose Antonio de Rivera, most likely, simply did not have time to follow in the footsteps of his idol Mussolini and his German friend Hitler. However, the activists of the “Phalanx” created by Rivera copied their Italian and German colleagues in everything.
As part of the “Phalanx”, paramilitary units were quickly created, which during the civil war, along with the Afrika Korps, became the backbone of the rebel armed forces. In the ancient manner, they were called maniples, flags, centuria and squadrons, equipped with symbols with a bow, arrows and an arch of three spears.
The phalangists called each other comrades, and the commanders – hierarchs. At the same time, they did not even try to hide that they were going to take power by force, so that the country would be governed by some corporate bodies under the control of such a party as Phalanx. Despite this kind of ideological cocktail, the highest officers of Spain soon recognized the Phalanx as a potential ally.
Already in 1934, the Phalangists launched a national-syndicalist offensive with the Junta. Its representatives generally had serious problems with ideas and ideologues, and they willingly stood under the red-black-red banner of a new ally.
In the same 1934, de Rivera wrote a famous letter to General Francisco Franco, guessing in that the future military leader. There was even an attempted coup, which turned out to be unsuccessful. The fact is that the strike and the uprising in Asturias were suppressed by troops led by General Franco, summoned from Africa by the republican government. Franco will oppose the republic in just two years.
Francisco Franco. First the savior, then the worst enemy of the republic
Not the first victim of the revolution
“Unity of the Fatherland”. “Direct action”. “Anti-Marxism”. “Anti-parliamentarism”. These slogans were soon easily recognized as their organizers of the future military revolt. The most inspiring, most likely, was the famous thesis of Ledesma Ramos about the corporate state, in which the social organism was viewed as a single trade union, and the nation as a close-knit family.
The revolutionary, or, if you will, the counter-revolutionary situation in Spain had developed long before the direct action of the military. The “Phalanx”, using the old ties of the late dictator’s son with the generals, set about preparing a coup. The leaders of the party in the summer of 1935 gathered for a kind of secret plenum, where they decided to begin preparations for the overthrow of the republic.
The government found out about their plans, and Primo de Rivera was arrested in March 1936. When the military rebelled, he was in the prison of the city of Alicante, corresponded with his comrades-in-arms and hoped for an early release. It was decided to try him as one of the main organizers of the conspiracy against the legally elected government. By this time, Franco managed to head the rebellious government, proclaimed in Burgos on October 1.
Among the many tragic events that took place on the eve of the mutiny, the arrest of the leader of the “Phalanx” is considered one of those that led to the civil war. Jose Antonio de Rivera was repeatedly tried to free, and for this they even attracted German ships that were in the roadstead in the port of Alicante. They tried to exchange them, for example, for the relatives of General Miaha, one of the few who remained loyal to the republic.
When the army of nationalists was already at the walls of the Spanish capital, in the People’s Court of Spain, Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera, on November 17, 1936, hastily pronounced the death sentence. This was considered a response to the White Terror that the rebels unleashed. They called it just a response to the terror of the Reds.
The leader of “Phalanx”, a professional lawyer, refused a defense lawyer with the words: “You will shoot him.” The verdict was carried out just three days later, which was not reported by newspapers or radio on both sides of the front. The republican government clearly did not want to turn de Rivera into a martyr, but Francisco Franco, remembering 1934 well, too.
Even after the death of his younger and more talented rival in the struggle for power, the caudillo was openly jealous of his popularity. A peculiar cult of Primo de Rivera began to form after the victory of the Francoists in the civil war. A national holiday is dedicated to him in Spain, and the monument in his homeland is invariably decorated with flowers today.