The Spanish political party commonly called the Falange was founded on 29 October 1933 as the Falange Española by José Antonio Primo de Rivera (1903–1936), a young lawyer and son of the former military dictator, Miguel Primo de Rivera. In February 1934 the party merged with a small Castilian Fascist party, the Juntas de Ofensiva Nacional Sindicalista (JONS). Primo de Rivera became supreme leader of the new organization, the Falange Española de las JONS, in October 1934. That same month the new party adopted most of its official paraphernalia, including the blue shirt, the red and black flag (a variation of the anarchist flag), and, significantly, the yoke and arrows adopted by the Spanish sovereigns Isabella and Ferdinand in the late fifteenth century. This set of symbols pretended to combine the semiproletarian nature of the new party with its roots in the supposedly best aspects of Spanish tradition. Although Primo de Rivera rejected being called a fascist and always insisted in the exclusive Spanish character of his party, he received financial backing from the Italian Fascist leader Benito Mussolini. By the same token, despite his proclaimed independence from both rightist and leftist groups, Primo de Rivera repeatedly obtained financial and political support from rich patrons and was elected to parliament in 1933 as part of an electoral ticket that included prominent conservative politicians and businessmen.
The ideological discourse of the Falange shared many fundamental traits with fascist groups elsewhere: the rejection of both liberal politics and class struggle, the cult of the state, vaguely worded ideas of social reform, exaggerated nationalism, the exaltation of youth, sublimation of violence, and the necrophilia surrounding the cult of the "fallen ones." The exaltation of Catholicism—despite some anticlericalism—and of the glorious imperial past of the nation gave the party its differentiating aspects. The group attracted a relatively youthful militancy, with a disproportionate presence of students. Most of the leaders came from middle- and upper-class backgrounds, but some workers also joined. The frequent violent confrontations with left-wing groups led the Popular Front government to ban the Falange shortly before the start of the civil war in July 1936. The Falange was deeply involved in the military uprising that precipitated the civil war, and although its role was subordinate to the military, its militias offered the initially weak rebel forces valuable support in many parts of the country. Primo de Rivera, who had been arrested in March 1936, remained trapped in the Republican zoneandon20November1936wasexecuted.
The Falange lost its highly charismatic leader at a critical moment. On the eve of the war, the party had scarcely ten thousand militants. The dynamic of political radicalization and social militarization that the war brought made the Falange militias very attractive to both militants of traditional conservative parties and political neophytes. Hundreds of thousands of them flocked to its ranks, which reached around one million by the end of the conflict in March 1939. In the meantime, roughly half of the "old shirts," or prewar militants, had perished. But the party changed from the top as well as from below. The surviving leaders of the Falange moved to rebuild the organization, but they were deeply divided. The elected successor of Primo de Rivera, the plebeian, and not too skillful, Manuel Hedilla, was constantly undermined by the circle around the aristocratic relatives of the party founder. Tensions grew high and in April 1937 led to a brief armed confrontation in Salamanca, where Francisco Franco's headquarters were located. Franco, who did not have a party of his own, seized the opportunity: he detained Hedilla, forced the merger of the Falange with the other party/militia in the rebel zone, the ultraconservative Comunión Tradicionalista (also called the Carlists), and made himself head of the newly born single party, the Falange Española Tradicionalista y de las JONS. With this maneuver, the military and the conservative forces of Spain, so many times bitterly criticized by Primo de Rivera, had put the Falange at their service.
From then until the end of the dictatorship in 1975, the role of the Falange was to serve Franco's political needs. It gave him an organization to discipline politics in his "new Spain," to organize mass rallies showing support for his regime, and to dispense sinecures to his followers. Because the nascent Francoist regime was a coalition of different social and political forces and institutions (including the army, the church, monarchists, urban and rural bourgeoisie, and landowning peasants), the Falange was constantly used by the dictator as a counterweight to pressure from those forces. Officially the Falange was given responsibility for the regime's social policies, and particularly control over the official unions. In reality, the party owed whatever influence it had to the dictator's wishes, and its weight in the government's decision-making process was minimal. Its popular support was always very limited, while the image of its leaders and militants as rough opportunists was widespread, even among the regime's supporters.
Ellwood, Sheelagh M. Spanish Fascism in the Franco Era: Falange Española de las JONS, 1936–1976. Basingstoke, U.K., 1987.
Payne, Stanley G. Falange: A History of Spanish Fascism. Stanford, Calif., 1961.
Preston, Paul. Franco: A Biography. London, 1993.