For one (whose Absence fills the land entire
With one mad love to emulate his fire)
At the same moment, to the firing squad
Spurning his body, launched his soul to God
Whose epic line (no flourish of the pen)
Was life and rapture, and whose words were men
Rolls flailing onwards to the rising sun:
For in young Primo’s grave his slayers stowed
One fire-brand safe, a whole mine to explode
And seldom such a triumph (since the Cross)
Has glorified such a single human loss:
Whose phoenix blood in generous libation
With fiery zest rejuvenates the nation
— Roy Campbell, Flowering Rifle
José Antonio Primo de Rivera was born on 24 April 1903, in Madrid. He was the eldest of the six children of General Miguel Primo de Rivera and Casilda Sáenz de Heredia. His mother died when he was five. General Miguel Primo de Rivera had an itinerant military career and was involved in colonial wars in Cuba, the Philippines, and Morocco.
With escalating violence from the Left in Barcelona, including the assassination of Cardinal de Zaragoaza in 1923, and with the approval of King Alfonso XIII, General de Rivera established total political authority in a coup that made him President of the Council of Ministers. The General attempted to establish a corporatist state to transcend party and class factions, and to build a national movement, the Union Patriotica Espana (UPE) as an expression to the organic state. Large public works projects were initiated, particularly on roads, ports, and irrigation. Because of opposition from the trades unions, students, and sections of the military, General de Rivera, his health failing, offered his resignation to the King on January 28, 1930, and retired to Paris. Any such bold initiatives were going to have the vehement opposition of socialists and Freemasons, and it seems likely that opposition from within the military would have been fermented by the Masonic lodges within.
When Alfonso went into exile in 1931, and the Second Republic was declared. Its first Prime Minster was a Freemason, Manuel Azana Diaz, as were 17 Ministers, 5 Deputy Secretaries, 15 Directors General, 183 out of 470 Parliamentary Deputies, 5 Ambassadors, 9 Divisional Generals, and 12 Brigade Generals. These influential Masons included: Alejandro Lerroux y Gracia, Minister of State; Diego Martinez Barrio, Minister of War; Jose Giral, Minister of the Navy; Jose Salmeron, Director General of Public Works and Mountains; the Mayor of Madrid, Pedro Rico Lopez and Jaime Ayguade, Mayor of Barcelona. The former Grand Master of the Grande Oriente Espanol, Demofilo de Buen, was Counselor of State. “Indeed, a sizeable proportion of the membership of Spanish Freemasonry were in a position of power and influence during the Second Republic.”
However, General de Rivera began what General Francisco Franco resumed under similar circumstances over a decade later. José Antonio originally entered the political arena to defend the memory of his father, who died just a few months after settling in France, in March 1930.
Studying law at the University of Madrid, José Antonio was elected to the council of the law students association in 1919. In 1922 José Antonio gained his B.A. law degree and completed his military service as an Ensign. After further legal studies he opened his own law office and was accepted into the Madrid Bar Association.
While General de Rivera was governing, José Antonio began to study philosophy. His primary influence was José Ortega y Gasset, professor of Metaphysics at the University of Madrid during 1910-1936, whose Revolt of the Masses in 1930 was a seminal influence on anti-liberal thought.
In 1930, the year of his father’s departure to Paris, José Antonio joined the National Monarchist Union, and was given the position of deputy secretary general. However, his ideas were becoming increasingly revolutionary, as he saw the needed of a social synthesis that would offer something other than the dialectal materialism, class war, and atheism of the Left, his father having already made those first few steps towards a new state. In 1932 José Antonio participated in the abortive revolt of José Sanjurjo, head of the Civil Guard, against the Second Republic. Sentenced to life imprisonment, Sanjurjo was amnestied in 1934 with the election of a conservative government. Moving to Portugal, he helped plan the revolt that was to be led by Franco against the Republican state in 1936, but died in a plane crash en route back to Spain to lead the revolt.
Soon after the 1932 revolt José Antonio turned his attention to Fascism, writing for the Spanish periodical Fascio in 1933. That year he was elected to the Parliament for Cardiz, as a Monarchist candidate. That year also sees the seminal event in the development of Spanish National-Syndicalism with the foundation of the Movimiento Sindicalista Espanol by the famed airman Ruiz de Alda, who was to assist José Antonio in creating the Falange Espanola soon afterwards. Like José Antonio, Ruiz de Alda would be murdered by the Republicans while in prison in 1936.
While José Antonio was not the father of Falangism, or Spanish National-Syndicalism, he provided the charismatic leadership and developed the doctrine. The movement emerged at a time when, of Spain’s 11,000,000 workers, 8,000,000 lived in poverty, and 2,000,000 peasants did not own their land. The state precariously functioned as an oligarchy. Spain was in constant turmoil with general strikes and armed attacks. Anarchism was a strong element in the unrest, and dominated the trades unions. While the workers and peasants were aggrieved, those with strong national sentiments lamented Spain’s loss of its centuries-long grandeur as a colonial power, having lost Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines in 1898. There arose the “Generation of ’98,” writers who sought to uncover the soul of Spain, writing of the need for a youth that is impelled to action.
Among the first to take action was Ramiro Ledesma Ramos, founding the periodical La Conquista del Estado (“The Conquest of the State”). Around him he drew new forces: students who were opposed to the bourgeois spirit and party politics, who demanded a revolution that was both national and social and led by youth. Ledesma demanded what was becoming apparent to nationalists throughout Europe and further afield, that a nation is implicitly social and that the classes in conflict within the state are like cancerous pathogens destroying the cells and organs of the nation. This concept of the state, amidst the class conflict engendered by bourgeois liberalism and the Left of both Marxist and anarchist varieties, was a traditional concept expressed with a new revolutionary and youthful fervor. The “organic state” drew on the social doctrine of Catholicism in making the state analogous to the Church as the “body of Christ,” literally a functioning social body, all of whose cells (classes) should function in accord, with the state as the co-ordinating “brain.” The Catholic peoples of Europe and Latin America did not need to turn to foreign and materialistic — let alone anti-Christian — ideologies; they had the answer within their own traditions. Moreover, in the corporatism of Pope Leo, who counseled a social bond between capital and labor and the revival of the guilds, there was a common ground that could be made with elements of Anarchism and the Syndicalist Left, which opposed Marxism as a bogus socialism.
This national-revolution manifested independently and spontaneously throughout Europe and the Americas, in answer to common problems that were sweeping the world, brought to moral, spiritual, cultural, social, and economic crisis by the First World War, and exacerbated by the Great Depression. Movements arose among the youth and returned servicemen on their own accord inspiring, for example, the Iron Guard in Romania, Hungarism in Hungary, Rexism in Belgium, National Corporatism in Canada, Mosley’s Fascism in Britain, The Blue Shirts in Eire, and corporatist states in Italy, Portugal, Brazil, and Austria. Even in far-away New Zealand (New Zealand Legion) and Australia (New Guard) elements of corporatism were incorporated into new national movements. All of these were significant movements with mass followings.
Spain, like Italy where Fascism arose under similar circumstances, and France, had strong syndicalist elements in the labor movement. These Syndicalist elements first in France under the inspiration of Georges Sorel, and then in Italy, responded to a doctrinal crisis within socialism by taking on a national orientation which enabled a convergence with traditionalists and nationalists. The “Right” for its part saw in syndicalism a means of achieving a nationally integrated state that replaced the party with the profession and enabled a unity of factions instead of conflict engendered by parties, as counseled by Pope Leo. The syndicates (or trades unions) would assume a function within the nation rather than as a faction at war with the nation; they would become cells within the national organism, assuming the responsibilities for economic, social, and moral questions. The detestation of the liberal democracy of the bourgeois state by both Syndicalists and “Rightists” enabled the unification of anti-bourgeois forces that in France coalesced around the Proudhon Circle. There the Syndicalist followers of Georges Sorel and the traditional Catholic and nationalist followers of Charles Maurras and Action Française, united. In Italy the same unity of purpose arose within the Nationalist Association, a precursor of Mussolini’s Fascio, which adopted syndicalism in 1919.
The youthful Spanish nationalists around Ledesma saw in syndicalism the same methods for national unity rather than class factionalism. As in France and Italy, even before the First World War, they sought a unification of the national and the syndical concepts. In Castilla another journal appeared, Libertad, published by Inesino Redondo, who praised the achievements of Fascist Italy. It is the following around Ledesma and Redondo, based at the universities of Madrid and Valladolid, who in 1931 united to form JONS, Juntas de Ofensiva Nacional-Sindicalista. Ledesma and Redondo were both 25 years old and had studied in Germany, where they had observed the National Socialists. The flag of JONS was the black and red of syndicalism on which was superimposed the Yoke and Arrows of the Catholic kings, representing Spain’s glorious past and revolutionary future.
The young militants of JONS shared with the Syndicalist Left a passion for “direct action.” However, whereas many of the syndicalists had become anarchists in wanting to see the elimination of the State, the National-Syndicalists regarded the state as having a creative role in the shaping of the nation, and the Syndicates as fulfilling creative roles within the State. Moreover, unlike the Marxist and anarchist Left, the National-Syndicalists embraced the Catholic cultural traditions of Spain. These movements emerging across the world saw man as more than the “matter in motion” of the Godless and materialistic creeds of the Left, and particularly of Marxism. Man is more than a mere economic unit. It was this dissatisfaction of the “materialistic interpretation of history” and of history as nothing more than class struggle, as Marx had put it in opening line of The Communist Manifesto, that had during the end of the 19th century caused a crisis of ideology within the Left. This soon prompted some significant socialists such as Doriot in France and Henri de Man in Belgium to turn to Fascism as the new synthesis that had surpassed capitalism and Marxism.
Although in 1933 JONS only had 200 militants, many of these had come from the anarchist and syndicalist Left. However, Ledesma Ramos, writing in La Conquista, stated that “our primary goal is revolutionary efficiency. Therefore we do not seek votes, but audacious and valiant minorities.” They were analogous to the Communist party cadres in their revolutionary consciousness, which did not rely on parliamentary majorities.
It would take José Antonio Primo de Rivera to unite the scattered ideas and groups, and develop a unified doctrine.
José Antonio was described by contemporary accounts as “a tall young man of good appearance and great charm that affected even his adversaries, endowed with a sense of humour.” He entered parliament as a “National Monarchist” to defend the name of his father, but realized that the General had failed to capture the hearts of the masses. He saw what was positive in Italian Fascism, but National-Syndicalism, like the Hungarism of Ferenc Szalasi, the Rexism of Degrelle in Belgium, and the National Christian-Socialism of Codreanu in Romania, is unique to its country of origin. José Antonio also realized the potential of syndicalism as a part of, rather than in opposition to, national renewal. On October 29, 1933, José Antonio founded the Falange Espanola (F.E.). In his founding speech to a congress of 2,000 he stated the movement was a new revolutionary concept for Spain: “The movement we create today is not a party, but a movement only; I could almost call it an anti-party. It does not belong, let it be said once and for all, either to the Left or to the Right.”
José Antonio did however, run as an independent candidate and was elected to parliament for his district, Cadiz. While opposing party politics the Falange would use the Cortes for propaganda purposes. With the election of a conservative majority, there was increasing public disorder, and 600,000 unemployed targeted for mobilization by the Left.
In February, the national council of JONS met in Madrid to discuss the possibilities of merging with the F.E., although Ledesma Ramos had previously rejected José Antonio’s of joining forces to establish a group called Fascismo Espanol, before forming the F.E. JONS had grown beyond being small groups of university students, and had founded syndicates of taxi drivers and of waiters. Its student base had spread throughout Spain.
On February 13, 1934 José Antonio’s Falange Espanola united with the National-Syndicalist Offensive, the unified movement being known as the Falange Espanola de las Juntas de Offensive Nacional Sindicalista (JONS). The leadership comprised a triumvirate of José Antonio, Ruiz de Alda, and Ramiro Ledesma. The flag of the Ledesma group, with the yoke and arrows, was retained.
As political violence escalated with Leftist mobs trying to provoke a revolutionary situation that they believed would result in a Marxist dictatorship, the Falangists eschewed an electoral alliance with the right-wing National Front, but performed badly at the polls with 0.7% of the vote. However, the Falangists were the most disciplined, youth-orientated revolutionary movement in Spain, and the Left knew that they had to be eliminated. Skirmishes with the Left resulted in nine Falangists killed up to May 1934, but by 1936 this had reached forty. The opening shots were fired when in less than three weeks during January and February three young Falangists selling newspapers had been shot by Socialists. The British historian Brian Crozier, commenting on the founding of the Falange Espanola in 1933, stated that José Antonio’s message of opposition equally to capitalism and Marxism, and his having “denounced class warfare as well and the atheist materialism of communism,” was a red rag to the bull of Socialism. The answer could only be the undeclared war of the streets that carried off the young vendors of the [Falangist newspaper] F.E. And when, on 4 March 1934, in Valladolid, Falange Espanola merged with a similar group, the JONS, it became evident that violence would answer violence.” The Falangists formed the Sentido Militae, sworn to lay down their lives for Spain at any moment.
However, “José Antonio himself deplored violence.” When Matias Montero, a medical student, was shot while selling F.E., José Antonio wrote to the press stating that “Falanage Espanola in no way resembles a criminal organization, no matter how many provocations it may receive.” However, José Antonio’s followers were not so forgiving, and bloody clashes between the Left and the Falangists became common.
In October 1934 a General Strike was called. An armed revolt by 30,000 miners resulted in a separatist Republic of Catalone being declared. The Government responded with the army, and 4,000 were killed in the conflict. The Falangists offered the Government support in resisting the Communist and anarchist chaos, but this was rejected. The Falangist offer was not made with the view to defending the oligarchy, but with the concern that a Red dictatorship would ensue. However, the oligarchy apparently would sooner be destroyed by Communism than co-operate with the new revolutionary national forces. The Falange increased its organizational efforts throughout Spain, and organized its own student and industrial workers syndicates, the Sindicato Espanol Universitario (SEU) and the Central Obera Nacional-Sindicalista. However, the movement remained youth based, and up to the outbreak of the Civil War in 1936, 60% to 70% of the Falangists were under 21.
In late 1935 and early 1936 there were splits within the movement as Rightists departed, followed by a Leftist faction led by Ledesma Ramos. However, by the end of the following year JONS had up to 10,000 members and a solid unity and discipline, with José Antonio having complete leadership.
José Antonio, who had inherited the title of Marquis from his father, and others of the upper classes who joined the Falange, did so because they could see beyond the class warfare that was engendered by the bourgeoisie, to a new Spain of national solidarity which could only be built on social justice. In 1935, speaking at Seville, José Antonio explained, “On the day that our revolution will be victorious, many on our side will lose much, perhaps everything. But in spite of this we are longing for the revolution, for we know that it is useless to enjoy privileges for a few more years while Spain is ruined meanwhile.” F. L. Carsten, not an apologist for Fascism, comments of José Antonio that “his patent sincerity assured to him the loyalty of his followers.”
In 1936 Parliament was dissolved amidst financial scandals and increasing tensions. The Left formed a broad alliance, the Popular Front, including Republicans, Moscow-aligned Communists, and the Trotskyites of POUM; while the Conservatives formed their own electoral bloc. JONS remained aloof and entered the elections of February 2 with its own List. The Left scored a majority. Among the first measures of the new Government was to grant amnesty to Leftists convicted of terrorism, and a new wave of terror spread. Churches were burned, conservative politicians shot, and the Falangists and Communists fought in the streets. In the province of Cuenca, and at Granada, where the Right had overwhelming majorities in the February elections, the Popular Front Government moved to annul the election results, and ordered new elections. In Granada the elections proceeded normally. However, in Cuenca, José Antonio stood, and despite the previous failure of the Falangists to make an electoral breakthrough, won the seat for the Cortes. The Popular Front feared that this was a sign of the future, and the Cortes voted to deny José Antonio his seat.
Meanwhile the unleashing by the government of Leftist mobs brought chaos to Spain. In his final speech to the Cortes on July 16, conservative leader Gil Robles stated that over the course of several weeks there had been 10 Church burnings, 5 demolitions of public crosses, 61 killed, 224 wounded, 74 bombings, 15 strikes, 129 partial strikes, and other signs of anarchy. José Calvo Sotelo, leader of the monarchist opposition in the Cortes, who had served as a successful Minister of Finance in the administration of General Miguel Primo de Rivera from 1925, was kidnapped on July 13, 1936 by the Republican “Assault Guard” police, using a false arrest warrant. He was shot and his body dumped. The murder by forces of the State was the catalyst for the army uprising. On 16 July conservative opposition leader Gil Robles stated in the Cortes that he held the Government responsible for the violence leading to Sotelo’s murder.
Within weeks the Government banned the Falangists, and arrested the leadership. Since José Antonio did not have parliamentary immunity he could be arrested under any pretext. The chief of police concocted the “proof” as to the criminality of the Falangists. These illegal maneuvers by the liberal state are remarkably similar to that endured by the Romanian Iron Guard under Codreanu. However, the Court of Justice of Madrid and the Supreme Court in April and June 1936 respectively, both uphold the legality of the Falange according to the Constitution.
The Popular Front had not yet been able to reduce the courts to the level of Red tribunals to enact repression and terror. The state then moved, as is the habit of tyrants, to limit gun ownership. The Ministry of the Interior passed a decree obliging licensed gun owners to surrender their firearms to the Guardia Civil. When José Antonio entered prison on March 15, 1936 he was the legal owner of a gun. On April 27, while still jailed, the Chief of Police of Madrid ordered a police search of José Antonio’s flat. Throughout this time the Chief of Police had installed a secret agent at the flat, according to the testimony of the former General Commissary of Social Investigation. There had also been many others coming and going throughout José Antonio’s incarceration, including Falangists, legal clients, and police. A police agent, Cristobal Pinazo, one of the few zealots for the Red Government among the police, was directed to search José Antonio’s study on his own, and immediately brought out two pistols. Despite the period of grace of fifteen days that the Government had allowed for gun owners to turn over their firearms, and the legality of the guns in José Antonio’s possession when he had entered jail, on April 30 he was accused of illegally possessing firearms. It was shown that one of the pistols did not belong to him while no mention as to the provenance of the other pistol was made by the police. José Antonio conducted his own defense before the Court of Justice at Madrid, which ordered its own investigation. Blasco Garzon, Minister of Justice, summoned to his office the president of the Court of Justice of Madrid. With the Undersecretary of Justice, both complained “bitterly” about the way the court was handling the case of José Antonio. According to the President of the Court, Garzon orders that a different court hear the case. A new tribunal was established, without any explanation given in the records.
On May 28, 1936, José Antonio was found guilty of possessing illegal firearms. The intention was to lay additional charges against him with the aim of keeping José Antonio in jail for years, despite the Courts having affirmed the legality of the Falange.
The reaction of the Falange to this persecution was recalled by the Governor of the Banco Exterior de Espana, a follower of the Popular Front, who said that “it reminded one of the behavior of the first Christians in the catacombs.” The Government decided to move José Antonio from Madrid, the Falange stronghold. Under cover of night on June 5, 1936 he was transferred to the prison at Alicante, a stronghold of the Popular Front. Soon after, the prison governor, Don Teodorico Serna, was replaced because of his humane attitude towards José Antonio. Within the prison, José Antonio learned of the Army revolt of July 18. The Red militia took custody of José Antonio, under the direction of Guillermo Toscano Rodriguez, formerly a leader of the CNT labor confederation. In prison, José Antonio’s conduct was exemplary. The food parcels he received from well-wishers he gave to other inmates, while he ate the prison rations. It was an indication of the aesthetic sensibilities of this nobleman.
However, the scabrous coterie of Freemasons, Communists, and Social Democrats who comprised the Popular Front, were fearful of José Antonio, with the commencement of the national uprising. José Antonio was now tried on an even more bizarre charge, that of participating in the national uprising. The Minister of Justice, Garcia Oliver, summoned the Judge and the Public Prosecutor and made it clear that José Antonio must be condemned to death. Oliver stated that owing to the international interest in the case, there must be an appearance of legitimacy, but the proceedings must be completed quickly. On November 9, 1936 the hearing began. Five days previously, the army stood before Madrid, while the Popular Front Government retreated to Valencia. At the court proceedings against José Antonio took place before a stacked hostile public gallery shouting abuse every time he answered under cross-examination. However, such was José Antonio’s dignified and factual response that he won over the public, the judge, and the jury. During the proceedings a Communist juror, Domenec, attempted to argue with José Antonio who uses the occasion to explain Falangist doctrine, which increased his rapport with those present.
The public prosecutor felt obliged to apologize in the Leftist press for the favorable effect the trial was having for José Antonio on the public, but for his role he was appointed as a magistrate to the Leftist state’s Supreme Tribunal. A witness at the trial, supporting the Popular Front, was recorded as remarking that after José Antonio had made his defense, “the reaction among the public was one of unanimous sympathy and the desire was felt that the petition for the death penalty made by the Public Prosecutor should not be granted.” José Antonio’s speech was conceded by his Leftist enemies as “a masterpiece of forensic eloquence.” The editor of the Republican newspaper in Alicante, El Dia, wrote of the great emotion that overtook the public gallery as they heard José Antonio. The jury was composed of supporters of the Popular Front, but one of the jurors stood up and shook José Antonio’s hand at the end of his defense. Nonetheless, the Popular Front had ordered the jury to find José Antonio guilty of conspiring with the army to overthrow the Republic.
In the early hours of the morning of November 20, 1936, José Antonio leaves his cell to go to his death; a new day is breaking, while a glorious life is reaching its end. José Antonio is assassinated in the company of four other martyrs; their names are Ezequiel Mira Miesta, Luis Segura Baus, Vicente Munoz Navarro and Luis Lopez. And, according to the words of Guillermo Toscano Rodriguez, who fired the last shot: “José Antonio died with the greatest fortitude, and when he was placed before the firing squad he gave the habitual cry of the Falange, ‘Arriba Espana!’ with a strong, clear voice, being seconded by the other victims, immediately afterwards falling to the ground, riddled by bullets.”
In his will José Antonio stated that he hoped his blood would be the last spilled. But the Spanish Civil War would rage on for three hellish years.
1. Roy Campbell, Flowering Rifle: A Poem from the Battlefield of Spain (Toledo, 1939).
2. M. I. McGregor, “The History and the Persecutions of Spanish Freemasonry,” 19 July 2009, Pietre-Stones Review of Freemasonry, http://www.freemasons-freemasonry.com/history-spanish-freemasonry.html
3. Ruiz de Alda was celebrated as co-pilot of the Plus Ultra that flew across the Atlantic in 1926.
4. The modern basis of the traditional Catholic concepts of the corporatist or organic state is the encyclical of Pope Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum, “Rights and Duties of Capital and Labour,” http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/leo_xiii/encyclicals/documents/hf_l-xiii_enc_15051891_rerum-novarum_en.html
Rerum Novarum inspired the corporatist states of Austria under Dollfuss and Portugal under Salazar, and as far away as Vargas’ Brazil.
5. See Codreanu, For My Legionaries (London: Black House Publishing, 2014).
6. The New Zealand Legion garnered 20,000 members.
7. Zeev Sternhell, The Birth of Fascist Ideology (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1994), pp. 38-44.
8. Enrico Corradini, “The Principles of Nationalism,” December 1910, in George Steiner (ed.) Roots of the Right : Italian Fascism (London: Jonathan Cape, 1973), p. 146.
9. See Zeev Sternhell, op. cit., inter alia.
10. F. L. Carsten, The Rise of Fascism (London: Batsford Academic and Educational Ltd., 1980), p. 197.
11. Quoted by Ettore Vernier, “A History of the Spanish Falangists,” personal archives.
12. Ettore Vernier, ibid.
13. F. L. Carsten, The Rise of Fascism, op. cit., p. 198.
14. Stanley G. Payne, A History of Fascism (London: UCL Press, 1995), p. 263.
15. Brian Crozier, Franco: A Biographical History (London: Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1967), p. 135.
16. Brian Crozier, ibid., p. 136.
17. Brian Crozier, ibid.
18. Vernier, op. cit., “Evolution up to the prohibition of the Falange.”
19. F. L. Carsten, The Rise of Fascism, op. cit., p. 200.
20. Joaquín Arrarás, Francisco Franco (London: Geoffrey Bles, 1938), p. 157.
21. Joaquín Arrarás, ibid., pp. 161-162.
22. C. Z. Codreanu, For My Legionaries (London: Black House Publishing, 2015).
23. “José Antonio de Rivera,” Perseverance, Hungarist Movement, Melbourne, 15 December 1989.
24. “José Antonio de Rivera,” ibid.
25. El Dia, 18 November 1936.
26. “José Antonio de Rivera,” op. cit., 15 December 1989.
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