- Counter-Currents - https://counter-currents.com -

José Antonio Primo de Rivera, Part 2

JoseAntonio [1]3,851 words

Part 2 of 2

The Spanish Civil War was a total war, a literal battle of good against evil, as the Republican forces, Social Democrats, Communists, and anarchists, burnt churches and killed priests and nuns[1] in a blood frenzy that brought hell to Spain. They were opposed by the core of the old military led by General Francisco Franco, joined by the militias of the monarchist Carlist movement and the Falangists. Where the “nationalist” forces gained authority the Auxilio Social was established under the direction of the Falange, to institute community aid, including health and old age insurance.[2]

Although José Antonio had been condemned to death for “conspiring” with the army rebels, the associations were minor. Just how precarious was the relationship is shown by the refusal of José Antonio, then in jail, to consider standing as a candidate for elections in Cuenca if Franco also ran at the invitation of Rightist politicians. José Antonio was furious when he heard of the Cuenca plan, “and let it be known that he would withdraw his name from the list if it also included Franco’s, on the ground that he refused to be associated with the military clique.”[3]

On 21 February 1936 in a circular letter to Falangist leaders throughout Spain, José Antonio had warned against “all blandishments for taking part in conspiracies, projects for a coup d’état, alliances with forces of ‘order’ and other things of similar nature.”[4] Such had become José Antonio’s dislike for Franco that he called the General the “most chicken-hearted” of “chicken-hearted soldiers.” Serrano Suner, Franco’s brother-in-law and a Falangist sympathizer, flew to Tenerife to persuade Franco to withdraw his candidacy. Crozier remarks: “the curious fact for leftists to face is that Franco, ‘the fascist general’, was hardly persona grata to José Antonio, the leader of Spanish fascism.”[5]

Nonetheless, historically one should not be too dogmatic. Spain had no other choice beyond Franco or the Red Hell. Co-operation between the nationalist forces was uneasy. The Carlists stood for a monarchist restoration, but did not want Alfonsin. General Mola wanted to set up a “military directory” and a state similar to that of General Primo de Rivera’s, as did the Union Militar Espanola. General José Sanjurjo wanted to establish a “straight” military dictatorship. The Falangists insisted on “a corporatist and Syndicalist state,” and although José Antonio had conceded that the Falangists would fight with the rebels he “maintained massive reservations.” From his cell at Alicante, he twice circularized the Falangist leadership, on June 24 and 29, warning against making arrangements with the military without his expressed approval, and ordering them, regardless, to maintain the Falangist identity, keeping their uniforms, emblems, and flags.[6]

The fate of José Antonio was not known. He was referred to as el Ausente – “the absent one.” The co-founders of JONS, Onesimo Redondo, had also been killed in battle, and Ledesma Ramos in a massacre of political prisoners by Republicans. On 16 November 1938 a Franquist decree made the anniversary of José Antonio’s death a day of national mourning.

Serrano was appointed Minister of the Interior in Franco’s first cabinet in January 1938. Veteran Falangist Raimundo Fernandez Cuesta, whom José Antonio had made National Secretary of the F.E. in 1934, was appointed Secretary-general of the Falange Espanola Tradicionalista y de las Juntas Ofensiva Nacional-Sindicalistas (FET, the union of Falangists and Carlists), and Minister of Agriculture. Veteran Falangist Pedro Sainz Rodriguez was appointed Minister of Education, and Pedro Gonzalez Bueno was made Minister of the Syndicates.[7] Hence, Falangists, although contending for places with Carlists and the military, were given important positions in the Franquist regime.

British author and famed Bengal Lancer veteran Major Francis Yeats-Brown extensively traveled the Nationalist-held territory during the Civil War and observed that “the organization of Nationalist Spain was a magnificent piece of work. Citizens went about their business amidst well-stocked shops . . . and [there] were immense reserves of everything: men, food, faith. I began to realize then what lies I had been reading in England; for the truth about the liberated districts of Spain was not hard for a visitor to discover.”[8] Yeats-Brown stated that the Popular Front Government had unleashed a long-planned reign of terror on dissidents the day following the start of the Nationalist revolt. Mobs were sent to the houses of those on blacklists, and the homes were burned, the inhabitants “shot, knifed and axed, or burned alive – men, women and children. In Madrid 50,000 were murdered, and more in Barcelona. The total number of citizens murdered by the Republican mobs was put at a minimum of 300,000, summarily killed for not supporting the Popular Front.”[9]

Franco’s intentions were influenced by national-syndicalism. How far he was able or willing to implement that doctrine is debatable. Franco had studied the Falangist program in 1936 at Salamanca.[10] When Franco announced the decree for the unification of the Carlists and Falangists into the Falange Espanola Tradicionalista y de las Juntas Ofensiva Nacional-Sindicalistas (FET) in April 1937 he also alluded to the aim of representing all Spaniards in the management of the State “through the medium of their family, municipal and syndical functions.” He declared himself “National Chief” of the FET, and the Carlist and Falangist militias were merged, their uniform being the Falangist blue shirt and the Carlist red beret.

Franco, while influenced by Falangism, determined that he and not the Falangist movement would implement the doctrine and to the extent that pragmatism allowed. He did, however, accept that the Falangists had played a vital role in defeating the Left, had an ever growing following, and did not favor a monarchist restoration, which Franco was also in no hurry to implement. Unification among the Nationalist organizations was required, for it was contradiction that the Nationalists including the army rebels, stood for a unified nation, above class and party strife, yet the Nationalist factions contended for the supremacy of their ideals, whether monarchist, Catholic, authoritarian, syndicalist, or any in combination. The long title of the FET was designed to incorporate all the national movements, but it is apparent that Falangist syndicalism was given a primary place, at least figuratively. Yet, the Falangist press never referred to Franco as the “chief,” but only by his military title of Generalissimo, implying that they conceded his temporary role as the military leader in a war against the Left, but were not politically subjected to him. Franco also had to contend with the demands of the Carlists for a monarchical restoration, [11] while the Carlists, demanding the crowning for Don Juan, contended with the “Alfonsists,” and the Falangists demanded a syndicalist state, but also had some monarchist restorationists in their ranks.[12]

Manuel Hedilla, ex-mechanic and elected leader of the Falange, was offered the position of chairman of the FETs political council, but refused. He was arrested on a charge of planning a rebellion, and sentenced to death. He was reprieved but spent four years in solitary confinement in the Canary Islands. Other Falangists were also jailed for several years. Conversely, on 4 August 1937 Franco decreed that the 26 Statutes of the Falangist movement would become state doctrine, with the aim of creating a corporatist state.[13]

Franco’s intent in 1939, when speaking with Yeats-Brown, was to build a state “on the Portuguese or Italian models,” the Portuguese “New State” of Salazar in particular being based on Catholic corporatist doctrines. The Parliamentary system had for Spain been an “unmitigated curse, opening the door to class hatred and foreign intrigue.” Franco continued:

We shall allow no parasites. Every Spaniard will have to work according to his capacity. The labourer is worthy of his hire, and will receive an absolute guarantee that he will not be a slave to capitalism, provided that he does not adopt the methods of class war, which make collaboration impossible. We are fighting for a state which will be like one great family, without overlords or serfs, plutocrats or proletarians, and in which all the elements that go to make the national wealth will be represented.[14]

March in honor of Jose Antonio [2]

March in honor of José Antonio

Despite widespread assumptions, “Franco himself had always been interested in such concepts as ‘social justice’ and the reduction of inequalities of wealth. In 1935, for instance, he used to say: ‘for the good of Spain, I should like there to be rather fewer rich people and rather fewer poor.’”[15] Nonetheless Franco was obliged to conciliate the industrialists and landowners to a greater degree than the Falangists would have liked. In the Labor Charter of 9 March 1938 annual paid holidays, a minimum wage, and family allowances, with stability of employment, were instituted; alongside recognition of private enterprise as the “perennial source of the economic life of the country.” “Vertical” trades unions (syndicates) were formed representing both employers and employers under the direction of the Falange.[16]

There was of course a fundamental difference in outlook. Franco saw the syndicates as a means of bringing social unity; the Falangists regarded syndicalism as the means by which the bankers and capitalists would be divested of power. However, a Falangist, Gerardo Salvador Merino, was appointed as National Delegate for the syndicates in September 1939. Industry-wide National Syndicates were established, with the authority to fix prices and economic standards. However, Merino’s mass mobilization of the Syndicalist workers caused concern among some of the Franquist ministers, and when Merino was offered the Ministry of Labor to quell his revolutionary zeal, he stated that he would only accept the post of Minster of the Interior and leadership of the FET. In July 1941 his enemies spread the accusation that Merino had been a Freemason, and Franco banished him.[17] The syndicates were henceforth tamed.

Much of the social work was undertaken at the direction of Pilar Primo de Rivera, sister of José Antonio, who became head of the Sección Femenina of the FET. From 1937 she had devoted herself to creating children’s canteens and a nursing service, and distributing food in the areas liberated from Red control.[18]

In May 1941 the Falangists presented Serrano Suner, who as Minister of the Interior was the de facto boss of the FET, with an ultimatum via Pilar Primo de Rivera: either declare in favor of Falangism or admit to being a reactionary. Serrano Suner remained non-committal and proceeded to become Foreign Minister. His place as Minster of the Interior was assumed by Colonel Valentin Galarza, an opponent of Falangism. Falangist provisional leaders, including José Antonio’s brother Miguel, resigned their positions in protest. An article critical of Galarza, appearing in the Falangist newspaper Arriba, resulted in the dismissal of the young poet Dionisio, who had written it, and who was Propaganda Chief in the Ministry of Interior, and Antonio Tóvar, Press sub-secretary of the Falange, after demands from the military. On the other hand, Franco also responded by appointing as the new head of the FET veteran Falangist, José Luis Arrese, who moreover was antagonistic towards Galarza, and who was noted for his honesty and zeal.[19] Additionally, Franco asked Arrese to convene a Falangist meeting and submit proposals to improve the representation of the Falange in government. Consequently, José Antonio Girón became Minister of Labour, and José Antonio’s brother, Miguel, became Minister of Agriculture.[20] The Press and Propaganda services were removed from the Ministry of the Interior and taken over by the FET. The Falangists had made significant gains. Franco moreover, in a dispute between Serrano and Arrese, supported the latter. Arrese for his part maintained his loyalty to Franco.

Such was the enmity that Carlists and Falangists clashed in August 1942 outside the Church of the Virgen de Begona. A young Falangist threw a grenade into the crowd. He had been paid by the German embassy. There had been an abortive German plan to create chaos and invade Spain.[21] Serrano Suner, while not involved in the plot, was regarded as too pro-Axis by Franco, and was removed as Foreign Minister.

Franco maintained Spain’s neutrality during the Second World War, despite the aid and volunteers from Fascist Italy and National Socialist Germany that had been sent to assist him during the Civil War. Only in June 1941, at the start of the Axis war against the USSR, did Franco allow Spanish volunteers to fight on the Eastern Front. The Falangist spirit now manifested on an unprecedented scale, as hundreds of thousands volunteered and 40,000 were sent as the Blue Division, itself symbolic of the blue shirt uniform worn by the Falange. When in 1943 Franco recalled the Blue Division and in 1944 the Spanish Legion, several hundred Falangists refused to return, and joined the Waffen SS companies with volunteers from France, Scandinavia, and the Netherlands, finally defending the last sector of Berlin against the Soviet army in 1945.[22]

With the end of the war, the influence of the Falangists on the Franquist regime declined, although the Falangist imagery and legend of José Antonio remained important elements in the mobilization of the people. The old guard Falangist José Antonio Giro, Minster of Employment during 1941 to 1957, was able to institute old age and sickness allowances, maternity grants, open social assistance offices, establish four workers’ universities, and build workers’ holiday homes and recreation grounds.  However, such was the marginalization of the Falange, that Blue Shirt commemorations were banned in Madrid and Alicante. Even the “Roman salute,” the outstretched arm, of the Falange was abolished. In 1945 Arrese, the efficient and honest Falangist leader, was removed as Minister and Secretary-General of the FET, and the post was left vacant. The War Minister, General Aqsensio, a Falangist, was replaced, although Girón remained as Minister of Labor, and Cuesta became Minister of Justice.[23]

While far from creating a Falangist National-Syndicalist State, Franquist Spain was head and shoulders above any other Spanish state edifice of modern times, including that of the present day. Free market capitalism was for long repudiated in favor of state investment, and in 1941 the Instituto Nacional de Industria (INI) was created as a means of building and managing new industries.[24] Under the able direction of a former engineering professor and a veteran of the Civil War, Juan Antonio Suanzes, by the mid 1950s the INI held ownership or part ownership in 70 enterprises, while private enterprise also expanded with the easy credit terms of the banks.[25] Dams were constructed, enormously expanding hydroelectricity; 20,000 workers built a giant steel works at Aviles; oil refineries were built; and an expanding automobile industry was established in Barcelona. The Instituto Nacional de Colonización in 1950 alone purchased 296 neglected properties and settled 23,517 peasant-farmers on them. Huge reforestation schemes were undertaken in Extremadura, Jaen, Málaga, and Aragon. In Badajoz tens of thousands of hectares of fallow land were reclaimed to construct new model towns and villages for settlers,[26] reminiscent of the model towns built on reclaimed marshes in Fascist Italy several decades previously.

Franquist Spain never resolved the crucial problem of banking reform however, and inflation rose with large pay increases, along with trade deficits, and the need for foreign credit. In 1958 and 1959, Spain was brought into the international financial fold and advisers came in from the Organization for European Economic Co-Operation and the International Monetary Fund.[27] Spain would be opened up to American, OEEC, and IMF loans, while an influx of Opus Dei members into Government preached liberal economic policies of deflation and cuts in state expenditure, against the protests of Suanzes. From 1955 Franco had been accepted by the “international community,” and Spain joined the United Nations Organization.

While the Falangist symbols and slogans were co-opted by the Nationalist State, the Falangist movement declined in influence, especially once the World War had concluded, and Franco saw the Cold War as an opportunity to divest himself of the “Fascist” image and join the Atlantic alliance.

In November 1955 Franco arrived at the Escorial to mark the annual mass for José Antonio. However, instead of wearing as usual the uniform of the Falangists, a white jacket with a blue shirt, he wore his military uniform. The one hundred honor guards supplied by the Falangist youth booed and murmured as he walked past. Franco reacted by dismissing the entire leadership of the Falangist Youth Front. In 1956 a dissident Falangist, Dionisio Rudruejo, organized a students’ club, Nuevo Tiempo, and clashes broke out with the Frente de Juventudes at Madrid University. Falangist veteran Minister of the Interior, Cuesta, was dismissed by Franco, although he had been out of Spain at the time. However, Cuesta was replaced by Arrese. Falangists gathered about Arrese with renewed vigor, drafting “Fundamental Laws” for the time when Franco was gone and they might institute a fully National-Syndicalist state. Franco summoned Arrese to remind him that provision had been made for the transition back to a monarchy. Arrese submitted his resignation, which Franco rejected. Arrese lost his position as Minister of the Interior to a moderate Falangist, and was given the Ministry of Housing. In 1958 Franco issued the “Law on the Principles of the National Movement,” which made no reference to Falangism, nor even to the FET.

In 1959 José Antonio’s body was reburied. It had been interred at the foot of the altar of the chapel of the kings at the monastery of El Escorial since 30 November 1939 after a procession of 300 miles from Alicante. Moving his remains to a new resting place at the recently completed mausoleum of the “million dead” commemorating those who died “for God and Spain” during the Civil War at the “Valley of the Fallen,” was regarded as being intended to placate the monarchists. That a slight was intended is indicated by Franco having not attended the ceremony. His place was taken by the Under-Secretary for the Presidency, Luis Carrero Blanco, who was met with hisses and boos by the Falangists.[28] The intention was to send a message that post-Franco Spain would be monarchist, not Falangist.

The Falangist veteran Francisco Herranz committed suicide in November 1969 in front of the Sainte Barbe Church in Madrid, in protest at the betrayal of Falangism. That year Franco had designated Prince Juan Carlos, grandson of King Alfonso XIII, his successor. Franco died on 20 November 1975, ironically the anniversary of José Antonio’s death. In December 1976, 94% of the Spanish voters approved Spain going down the democratic parliamentary sinkhole, and on the road to chaos, corruption, and debt.

In 1977 the National Movement self-liquidated. However, Falangist veterans and supporters continue to pay homage to José Antonio on 20 November. Falange Espanola de las JONS was re-established in 1976 and has numerous councilors and mayors throughout Spain. The movement upholds the original principles of National-Syndicalism, seeing man as a social being, with a traditional spiritual mission based on Catholicism, to be handed on to future generations, as the historical continuity of Spanish civilization. Of particular importance to the success or failure of any initiative is that the Falange Espanola de las JONS deals with the question of finance, advocating the nationalization of banking and the issue of low or interest free loans for cooperative and small and medium enterprises.[29]

José Antonio and Spanish National-Syndicalism inspired others especially across the Latin world, as the Hispanic manifestation of a universal response to a universal crisis in Civilization, that liberal democracy could not resolve and that capitalism had engendered. The supposed antithesis, Marxism, was a reflection of capitalism and merely aggravated the existentialist crisis that brought into question the very meaning of what it is to be “human.” To the materialists of capitalism and socialism man was bereft of spiritual and even once fundamental moral and noble meanings that had been dethroned in the moral nihilism of Marx, Freud, and Darwin. Those who sought a more profound answer to the “modern” and “progressive” doctrines of liberalism and socialism, came to analogous conclusions because the crisis in civilization had thrown up the same problems across Europe and further afield. The answer was in a dialectical synthesis of the national, social and religious, the traditional and the innovative, the social collectivity of the nation and the state which yet recognized and rewarded the individual personality. The hell brought to Spain by liberal democracy and communism shocked many from throughout the Hispanic world into looking to Falangism as an answer. In Poland the National Radical Camp — Falanga (Oboz Narodowo Radykalny — Falanga) was established in 1934, and like its Spanish counterpart at the same time, was based on youth and, so far from being a tool of the Axis, became part of the resistance during the German occupation.

In Chile the Falange Nacional was formed in 1935; the Bolivian Socialist Falange in 1937; in Ecuador in 1948, the Alianza Revolucionaria Nacionalista Ecuatoriana; the Mexican Synarchists achieved a mass following during the late 1930s. In Argentina, as one would expect from a Catholic country of largely Spanish background, there was much sympathy for Spain’s fight against Communism. Supporters of Nationalist Spain established the Centro de Acción Espanola, which provided headquarters for the Falange Espanola de Buenos Aires.[30] The Peronist State approached closer to the Falangist ideal than Franquist Spain, with two Syndicalist provinces being established, but the goal of establishing Argentina as a National Syndicalist State was abruptly halted with Perón’s overthrow in 1955.[31]

Peruvian Falangists of the Union Revolucionario uphold the memory of José Antonio. The Movimiento Patriotico Falangista del Uruguay has the red and black and the yoked arrows of Falangism, and works for a “profound social revolution.” The Movimiento Revolucionario Nacional Sindicalista was founded in 1969 and continues to demand the “State of National Community.” The National Sinarquists in Mexico have existed since 1937. Colombia has the Alternativa Falangista. Poland again has a Falanga that has maintained the arm and sword emblem of the original Polish Falangists.[32] The burgeoning Golden Dawn in Greece, giving nightmares to the nexus of communism and plutocracy, honors José Antonio.[33] Every 20 November, in Spain, Falangists pay homage to José Antonio, as they have for decades, giving the Falangist salute, elderly and young, some wearing the red berets and blue shirts of the Falange[34] and crying the traditional Falangist response to José Antonio’s name: Presente!


[1] Among those killed by the Republican forces were 12 bishops, 4,184 priests, 2,365 monks and approximately 300 nuns. See Joe Pearce, Literary Giants (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2005), “Roy Campbell,” p. 187. See also Brian Crozier, p. 269.

[2] “José Antonio de Rivera,” op. cit., 15 December 1989.

[3] Brian Crozier, Franco: A Biographical History (London: Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1967), p. 173.

[4] Brian Crozier, ibid.

[5] Brian Crozier, ibid.

[6] Brian Crozier, ibid., p. 180.

[7] Brian Crozier, ibid., pp. 265-266.

[8] F. Yeats-Brown, European Jungle (London: Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1939), p. 276.

[9] F. Yeats-Brown, ibid.

[10] Brian Crozier, op. cit., p. 218.

[11] Brian Crozier, p. 237.

[12] In July 1943, 27 prominent monarchists, including five Falangists, signed a declaration calling for the restoration of the “traditional Catholic monarchy.” Arrese, then head of the FET, expelled these monarchical Falangists from the movement.

[13] Brian Crozier, ibid., pp. 243-244.

[14] F. Yeats-Brown, op. cit., pp. 289-290.

[15] Brian Crozier, ibid., p. 270.

[16] Brian Crozier, ibid.

[17] Brian Crozier, ibid.,  pp. 419-420.

[18] Brian Crozier, ibid., p. 271.

[19] Brian Crozier, ibid., p. 427.

[20] Brian Crozier, ibid., p. 428.

[21] Brian Crozier, ibid., pp. 423-426.

[22] “José Antonio de Rivera,” op. cit.,15 December 1989.

[23] Brian Crozier, op. cit., p. 437.

[24] Brian Crozier, ibid., p. 456.

[25] Brian Crozier, ibid.

[26] Brian Crozier, ibid., pp. 457-458.

[27] Brian Crozier, ibid., p. 463.

[28] Brian Crozier, ibid., p. 455.

[29] Falange Espanola de las JONS 2011 manifesto, point 14; http://falange.es/contenido/quienes-somos/ [3]

[30] Ronald H. Dolkart, “The Right in the Décade Infame 1930-1943,” in Sandra McGee Deutsch and Ronald H. Dolkart (ed.) The Argentine Right (Wilmington: SR Books, 1993), p. 78.

[31] See K. R. Bolton, Perón and Perónism (London: Black House Publishing, 2014), pp. 243-251.

[32] Falanga, http://www.falanga.org.pl/ [4]

[33] “The Falange and the Spanish National Revolution,” http://xaameriki.wordpress.com/2013/11/27/jose-antonio-primo-de-rivera-present-the-falange-and-the-spanish-national-revolution/ [5]

[34] Commemoration, 2013, http://www.demotix.com/news/3325754/fascist-rally-commemorate-death-franco-and-primo-de-rivera#media-3325266 [6]