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Primo de Rivera, Miguel (1870–1930)



Spanish general and dictator.

Miguel Primo de Rivera was born in the Andalusian town of Jerez de la Frontera to an aristocratic family with landholding and military antecedents. In 1884 he followed his father and uncle into the military, enrolling in the General Military Academy. During the 1890s he experienced combat in Spanish North Africa, Cuba, and the Philippines. By 1908 he attained the rank of colonel and volunteered for duty in Spanish North Africa, where his battlefield accomplishments and family connections earned him rapid promotions. In 1915 he transferred back to Spain, being appointed military governor of Cadiz. This began his direct participation in domestic politics, which included serving in the Spanish Senate. In 1919 he was promoted to lieutenant general and selected as captain general of the important army garrisons of Valencia, Madrid, and Barcelona. In Barcelona he witnessed violent social and labor conflicts, political paralysis and electoral manipulation, regional separatism, and the impact of the army's 1921 colonial defeat in Spanish Morocco, which cost approximately ten thousand Spanish lives.

In the summer of 1923 the government's failure to resolve the ongoing conflict in Spanish Morocco and the parliament's pursuit of a "responsibilities" investigation against the army for the colonial debacle triggered a conspiracy of senior army officers to impose a military solution to Spain's political, social, economic, and colonial problems. Although Primo de Rivera was an unlikely candidate to lead this movement, given his anticolonial views, his prestige as a senior army general, his political and social conservatism, and the support he enjoyed among the Catalan elites and middle classes made his candidacy acceptable to the conspirators and to Alfonso XIII, king of Spain. On 13 September 1923 he issued a manifesto "to the country and the army" promising to restore order, discipline, and responsible government and bring a "rapid, dignified, and sensible" solution to the colonial war. On 15 September 1923 Alfonso XIII handed him political power as Spain's first military dictator. In one of his early public statements he indicated that his Military Directory would be a "brief parenthesis" of only ninety days in the country's political life in order to start its renovation.

Primo de Rivera's timetable was overly optimistic but consistent with his confident, pragmatic, and naive personality. Nevertheless, by suspending constitutional guarantees and imposing press censorship and martial law, he was able to bring rapid social and labor tranquility. His government's ongoing repression of the anarchosyndicalists, the Spanish Communist Party, and the regional separatists and its co-opting of the Socialist General Workers' Union ensured relative social and labor peace for most of his regime. Further, his disparagement of parliamentary politicians, the closing of parliament, the replacement of civil governors with military officers, and the imposition of military oversight over local government basically destroyed the liberal parliamentary system.

By the end of 1923 it was apparent that Primo de Rivera would need more time to regenerate Spain. As such, he institutionalized the Military Directory, which continued to govern Spain until 4 December 1925, when it was replaced by a civilian ministry. And in 1924 the dictator's supporters organized a government party, the Patriotic Union (UP), which espoused a vague program of nationalism, conservative Catholicism, authoritarianism, and corporatist economic and social programs. While not a true fascist party, some have seen it as a precursor to the radical Right during the Second Republic and Spanish fascism.

The years 1925 to 1927 saw the regime's apotheosis with a military victory in Spanish Morocco, economic expansion stimulated by high import tariffs, the encouragement of industrial concentration and basic infrastructure improvements, and extensive public works projects. After 1927 the dictatorship entered a period of decline as both the political and economic climate turned against it. A failed effort was made to institutionalize the regime through constitutional reform by establishing a nonelective National Assembly in October 1927. Its charge was to develop an alternative to the liberal 1876 constitution. The resulting draft constitution reflected rightist, mild authoritarian, and corporatist concepts and was roundly condemned by both monarchist liberals and the growing republican and leftist movements. As the economy took a downturn in 1929 and the government experienced large deficits and a collapsing peseta, antiregime discontent became more pronounced, even among the military. In January 1930, when Primo de Rivera canvassed the captain generals to gauge their support for his regime, he found little backing. Tired and sick with diabetes, he resigned on 28 January 1930, exiled himself to France, and died in Paris on 16 March 1930. He was buried in Jerez de la Frontera.

See alsoFalange; Fascism; Spain; Spanish Civil War.


Ben-Ami, Shlomo. Fascism from Above: The Dictatorship of Primo de Rivera in Spain, 1923–1930. Oxford, U.K., 1983.

González Calleja, Eduardo. La España de Primo de Rivera: La modernización autoritaria 1923–1930. Madrid, 2005.

Rial, James H. Revolution from Above: The Primo de Rivera Dictatorship in Spain, 1923–1930. Fairfax, Va., 1986.

Sueiro Seoane, Susana. España en el Mediterráneo: Primo de Rivera y la "cuestión marroquí," 1923–1930. Madrid, 1992.

Tamanes, Ramón, and Xavier Casals. Miguel Primo de Rivera. Barcelona, 2004

Shannon E. Fleming

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