Falangism is the Spanish variant of the fascist doctrines that gained vogue in Europe during the 1930s. Its origins are purely theoretical, for falangism existed as an ideology on paper for several years before it became a significant political movement. The originators of Falangist doctrine were Ramiro Ledesma Ramos (1905–1936), sometime postal clerk and unemployed intellectual, and Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera (1903–1936), a young aristocrat and son of the former dictator General Miguel Primo de Rivera. The ideological basis of Falangist doctrine was first expounded by Ledesma in 1931 under the label “national syndicalism.” Intoxicated by the spectacle of German national socialism, Ledesma endeavored singlehandedly to fabricate a Spanish fascistic program that would combine the two main radical forces in early twentieth-century Europe–nationalism and socialism. Ledesma’s notion of “national syndicalism” was that of a revolutionary movement that would carry out the socioeconomic program of Spanish anarchosyndicalism under the aegis of a dictatorial nationalist state.
Falangism took formal shape in 1933–1934, after the founding of a new political movement called Falange Espanola (Spanish Phalanx). This organization was largely the creation of Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera, a restless, romantic, and energetic young man who wanted to complete the work begun by his father. Amid the frustrating experiences of the first two years of the Second Spanish Republic, he groped for a formula that could unify all the Spanish people and promote national rejuvenation. Like Ledesma, he thought it could be supplied by some kind of “Spanish fascism,” which would combine nationalistic dictatorship and sweeping socioeconomic reform. Certain conservatives helped him found the Falange on October 29, 1933, and it soon absorbed the tiny group of radicals who followed Ledesma.
The classic doctrine of falangism was defined at the end of 1934 in a program written principally by Ledesma and referred to as the “Twentyseven Points” (see Primo de Rivera 1942). The major principles announced were:
- Political unity of Spain and elimination of regional separatism.
- Abolition of political parties.
- Establishment of a nationalist dictatorship led by the party.
- Use of violence in regenerating Spain.
- Development of Spanish imperial power.
- Expansion and strengthening of the armed forces.
- Recognition and support of Catholicism as the official religion of Spain but rejection of any clerical influence in government.
- A sweeping economic reform, referred to as “revolution,” which emphasized the following:
(a) Establishment of a complete system of national syndicates, embracing employers and employees, to organize, coordinate, and represent all of Spain’s economic activity.
(b) Sweeping agrarian reform, reclaiming wasteland, improving techniques, concentrating scattered holdings, and reorganizing the great latifundia.
(c) Stimulation of industrial expansion.
(d) Basic respect for private property, but nationalization of all credit facilities to eliminate capitalist usury.
Together with these specific goals, a general mystique of Spanish nationalism and an interpretation of Spanish history exalting certain peculiarities of Spanish life were expounded, and almost all of Spanish liberalism and the nation’s experience with constitutional parliamentary government were denounced. The fanaticism in the Spanish past was interpreted as a triumph of the nation’s spirit. The Inquisition and some of the nation’s more absolutist rulers were exalted and used as evidence that Spaniards needed forceful, authoritarian rule.
At the time this program was drafted the Falange probably had the support of only one per cent of the Spanish people. Its economic program remained vague because almost none of the party’s few intellectuals had concrete experience with economic matters. One of the more confusing of the Twentyseven Points was the declaration “We have a will to empire,” for the Falangist notion of “empire” was never made clear. One Falangist leader soon went out of his way to indicate that “empire” meant only cultural influence and diplomatic leadership and not political or territorial domination. Other Falangists spoke in more aggressive terms, proposing the annexation of Portugal.
In October 1934 José Antonio Primo de Rivera was made jefe national (national chief) of the movement. In his person the jefe summarized the contradictions of Falangist doctrine, for he was an intellectual liberal and manifestly uncomfortable with the fascist aggressiveness of Falangist ideology. Most Falangists had originally referred to their movement as “fascist,” but Primo de Rivera and other party leaders soon became worried about close identification with Italian fascism and German Nazism. By 1935 they were emphasizing that falangism was not intended to be “fascist” at all, but merely a native development of Spanish nationalism.
Since falangism began as an intellectual abstraction and changed greatly when finally placed in practice, it can be adequately understood only through a study of its historical evolution. The but it lacked popular support and had already been Falange was a rabid foe of the Spanish Republic, driven underground by the police and rendered physically impotent when the rebellion against the republic broke out, on July 17, 1936. The revolt was organized entirely by the Spanish Army, and the Falange, which had no official standing, was forced to collaborate with the rebels on the army’s terms. During the first months of the civil war the movement lost most of its original leaders, for Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera, Ramiro Ledesma, and others were shot by the Republicans.
Nonetheless, in this climate of civil war, the membership of the party swelled enormously, for falangism was the only radical new ideology with which the Spanish right could combat the militant left. The military dictatorship had few clear political ideas, and after Generalissimo Francisco Franco emerged as head of the new Nationalist government, he and his advisers searched for some kind of official political ideology and structure. Falangism seemed the answer, for it stressed the defense of traditional Spanish institutions, proposed a solution to class warfare, and was the ideology most congenial to Nazi Germany and fascist Italy, the two states on which the military dictatorship had to rely to win the war. On April 19, 1937, the Falange was therefore elevated to the role of the state party of Spain, and the Twenty-seven Points were adopted as a government program.
Falangism was thus taken over as a tool of the military dictatorship; the Falangists did not in any way take over the Franco state. Franco became head of the Falange, which was reorganized, watered down, and mixed with a variety of more conservative groups. Officially, the party was fused with the reactionary, monarchist Carlist militia and renamed “Falange Espanola Tradicionalista de las Juntas de Ofensiva Nacional Sindicalista.” The 27th point of the Falangist program, which had prohibited any such fusion, was then dropped. Power rested securely in the hands of Franco and the military hierarchy, almost none of whom was truly “Falangist.” Indeed, most Spanish officers tended to sneer at the orthodox Falangists, calling them “our Reds.”
Falangism had two main tasks after the end of the civil war, in 1939. The first was the creation of a nationwide system of workers’ and employers’ syndicates. This soon blanketed all urban and industrial regions, although it was slow to include the rural areas. The syndicates were organized by state functionaries from the top downward. They did not represent the workers but controlled them in the interests of the state and of the employers. Such a situation contrasted sharply with the original Falangist theory, in which the syndicates were supposed to be dynamic revolutionary organisms, helping to carry out a national economic reformation.
The second major task of falangism was ideological: to provide an authoritarian nationalist political theory that would supply intellectual and emotional support for the dictatorship. Falangism furnished the substance of the state propaganda machine, its antiliberal, antiparliamentary ideology being used to discredit all elements not within the Franco government and to indoctrinate the new generation of Spanish youth with loyalty to the regime. Falangist demagogy was widely employed in an attempt to convince the workers and the rest of the population that the present conservative dictatorship, protecting propertied interests and the status quo, was somehow a dynamic national revolution.
At no time was the Falange party organization allowed a position of independent authority inside the state, but Falangists were given a near monopoly on bureaucratic positions and many jobs in the lower echelon of the government apparatus. At the same time, the Falange National Council was packed with conservatives and army men so that there would be no danger of the movement’s original ideological radicalism becoming more than rhetoric. As a result of the great influx of wartime members, the majority of Falangists had little sense of revolutionary national-syndicalist doctrine. They were largely an amorphous collection of opportunists and timeservers, who supported the regime as a means of gaining employment.
Since the nationalistic authoritarianism of Falangist propaganda was extended, on the international plane, to intense enmity against Britain, the United States, and the other Western democracies, falangism was especially useful to the Franco regime during the years 1937–1942, when the Nazifascist star was rising and the Spanish regime hoped to find a place inside the fascist new order. During this period it was often found convenient to revert to the original definition of falangism and to call it “Spanish fascism.”
After 1943, however, with fascism on the wane in Europe, this definition came to be as much a liability as an asset to the Franco regime. From that time on, great efforts were made to erase the overtly fascistic, imperialistic aspects of Falangist ideology. The official government spokesmen and even Falangist leaders began to place especially heavy emphasis on the “Catholic” nature of falangism, to play up the “religious” aspect of the regime’s political orientation. Falangist ideologues now began to say that not everything done by liberal regimes was bad, that in fact the Falange itself was rather “liberal,” or at least broad-minded and forgiving. The amount of money provided the Falangist organization fell off rapidly by 1945, as the Spanish regime tried anxiously to provide itself with a new facade. No more was heard about the Spanish “empire” or the virtues of violence. There was even some speculation that the Falange would be dismantled altogether. However, there was never any danger of the Franco regime’s going that far, for the vague Falangist ideology was the only political ideology the military dictatorship possessed. Rather, the Falangist “new line” was expanded. “National revolution” now meant merely the continuation of the existing syndical system to keep the workers in their place. “Nationalism” and “antiliberalism” were used mostly to provide propaganda support for the regime and not to defame the progressive nations of the Western world.
Franco had always stressed the fact that falangism had not achieved final form as a doctrine, that the program of the state would continue to change. Presumably, it would never cease to do so. After 1945 emphasis was placed on the wide variety of political and ideological forces in the original “movement” behind the Franco government. Conservatives, moderate liberals, constitutional monarchists, clericals, and reactionary Carlists, who had always resented the relative ideological monopoly of falangism, were now permitted more voice.
In 1947 Franco arranged a plebiscite to turn his regime into a sort of regency, with some member of the Spanish Bourbon dynasty slated to succeed him when he wearied of his role as dictator or died. Falangist doctrine had always been more or less antimonarchist. In fact, much of the rank and file of the Falangist organization was rabidly so, deeming monarchism incompatible with any kind of vigorous modern political movement. Therefore, Franco’s official establishment of the monarchy as his successor seemed to reduce the function of falangism even further.
The true result of the transformation of the regime into a pseudo regency was nonetheless that it increased the significance of falangism for the dictatorship. Franco’s own monarchism was largely fraudulent; he had primarily sought a way to pacify restlessness about the future. Publicly favoring monarchist interests, Franco actually sustained Falangist propaganda and the Falangist bureaucracy so that monarchist influence would not become too strong. The Spanish dictator could thus threaten the monarchists with a revival of extreme falangism whenever they tried to place any pressure on his regime.
Although he cared even less about ideology than before, Franco probably felt more comfortable with falangism and the party bureaucracy than with most other elements of his regime. The Falangists were so completely dependent on his personal benevolence that they dared not seriously oppose him, and their ideology of nationalism and authoritarian rule was still the most comfortable political rationale for his heterogeneous, but increasingly light-handed, tyranny.
The immediate future of the regime was assured in 1951, when the United States began its policy of rapprochement with Franco. It became clear that the regime would no longer suffer international pressure because of its quasi-fascist texture, and Franco responded by placing a regular Falangist at the head of the bureaucracy and appointing four new Falangist ministers in the 1951 cabinet shake-up. Falangist propagandists felt freer to return to some of their old prejudices. Nonetheless, and despite the fact that the United States was still, in the classic Falangist definition, a decadent liberal parliamentary democracy, the new doctrine had to be one of friendship with America, for the latter had indirectly become a principal supporter of the Franco dictatorship.
The growing prosperity of Spain in the 1950s finally made it possible for the regime to attempt to realize a few peripheral aspects of the original Falangist program of economic reform. A program of state-operated industrialization, directed by the National Institute of Industry (INI), lavished vast amounts of money on a great variety of industrial projects between 1951 and 1958. At a much slower pace, a new beginning was made in state irrigation projects and agrarian reform. This, however, had little to do with falangism per se, being directed by separate bureaucracies and paying little heed to the incomplete plans of the creators of falangism.
The last effort to define falangism politically and to turn it into a living, controlling force was made in 1956–1957. The growth of political opposition had made a mild shake-up of the government necessary. A commission of old-guard Falangists was called together, and three separate anteproyectos (draft proposals) were drawn up to define the Falangist position. (The anteproyectos were not officially published, but copies of them were made available to this author by one of the Falangist leaders involved.) These made it clear that the Twenty-seven Points were quite dead. There was no mention of “empire” or “violence.” Instead, the new catechism stressed the pre-eminence of Catholicism, national unity, and social justice and the viability of a moderated capitalism.
With regard to the structure of the state, the Falangists approved Franco’s Cortes (parliament), a rubber-stamp assembly elected indirectly from a state-controlled list of nominees. However, they requested the elevation of the Falangist National Council to a sort of upper chamber or senate. Their project acknowledged a king as successor to Franco in the role of chief of state but requested the appointment of a prime minister, or chief of government, who would carry on ordinary executive functions. He was to be responsible primarily to the chief of state, although it was stipulated that three adverse votes by the Falangist National Council should bring his resignation. Continuation of the one-party system was projected, and the Franco system of establishing a series of “fundamental laws” in lieu of a constitution was approved.
Such a project contained a wholly original statement of Falangist notions of political structure, for at no time previously had the party’s organic goals been made so clear. Nonetheless, the anteproyectos were irrelevant, for there was no chance that they would ever be realized. The most influential pressure groups in Franco Spain–the hierarchy of the army and the Roman Catholic church–reacted with extreme anger. The anteproyectos were quietly buried without ever having been made public, and in the 1957 cabinet change falangism was further downgraded.
By that time the major interest in Spain was economic development, not politics. The Franco regime preferred to give the appearance of liberalization and a more purely technical kind of government. The tendency was thus toward the transcendence of falangism by a more “prismatic” political doctrine, permitting expression of pluralistic tendencies, within a limited range, under one-man rule. Such an orientation was much more effective in an era of increasing integration with liberal western Europe.
It was perhaps impossible to expect that Falangism, as an ideology or as a movement, could survive and flourish in the postfascist epoch of western Europe. Having attained a position of pseudo responsibility without effective power, it had served as an effective scapegoat, to be blamed or downgraded whenever the regime felt a show of “liberalization” to be necessary. Nonetheless, it did leave a significant legacy, since it provided the principal rationale for authoritarian unity and government in Spain. At the same time, by its rhetorical emphasis on economic reform and social justice, it probably constituted the most liberal force within the regime.
stanley g. payne
The changing emphases of Falangist doctrine are best seen in the publications of its creators and leaders. For the pre-World War n period these are Aparicio 1939; Ledesma Ramos 1935; Primo de Rivera 1942 and 1956; Redondo 1939. For the later period see Fernandez Cuesta 1951; Arrese 1943, 1947, and 1957; and the official journal of the movement, Revista de estudios politicos. General historical accounts and critiques are Payne 1961 and Nellessen 1963.
aparicio, juan (editor) 1939 Antología: La conquista del estado. Barcelona (Spain): Ediciones FE. → A compilation of articles that originally appeared in the periodical La conquista del estado in 1931.
arrese, josÉ luis de 1943 Escritos y discursos. Madrid: Vicesecretaría de Educación Popular.
arrese, josÉ luis de 1947 Capitalismo, comunismo, cristianismo. Madrid: Ediciones Radar.
arrese, josÉ luis de 1957 Hacia una meta tnstttu-cional. Madrid: Ediciones del Movimiento.
fernÁndez cuesta, raimundo 1951 Intemperie, victoria y servicio: Discursos y escritos. Madrid: Ediciones del Movimiento.
[LEDESMA RAMOS, RAMIRO] 1935 ¿ Fascismo en España? (Sus origines, su desarrollo, sus hombres), by Roberto Lanzas [pseud.]. Madrid: Ediciones “La Conquista del Estado.”
NELLESSEN, BERND 1963 Die verbotene Revolution: Aufstieg und Niedergang der Falange. Hamburg (Germany): Leibniz.
PAYNE, STANLEY G. 1961 Falange: A History of Spanish Fascism. Stanford Studies in History, Economics and Political Science, No. 22. Stanford (Calif.) Univ. Press.
PRIMO DE RIVERA, JOSÉ ANTONIO 1942 Norma programática de la Falange. Pages 589–597 in José Antonio Primo de Rivera, Obras completas. Compiled and edited by Augustin del Río Cisneros and Enrique Conde Gargollo. Madrid: “Diana.”
PRIMO DE RIVERA, JOSE ANTONIO 1956 Textos inéditos y epistolario. Madrid: Ediciones del Movimiento.
REDONDO, ONÉSIMO (1939) 1954–1955 Obras completas. 2 vols. Madrid: Publicaciones Españnolas.
Revista de estudios politicos (Madrid). → Published bimonthly since 1941.
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