Policies, Programs, and Growing Popular Unrest

Spain Table of Contents

Severe repression marked the early years of the regime, as Franco sought to impose absolute political control and to institutionalize the Nationalist victory in the Civil War. The schisms that had preceded and precipitated the war were maintained as the vanquished were excluded from political participation. Franco restricted individual liberties and suppressed challenges to his authority. The regime imposed prison terms for "revolutionary activity," and executions were carried out through 1944, albeit at a decreasing rate. These repressive measures engendered an atmosphere of fear. In addition, the traumatic effect of years of internecine violence, widespread deprivations, suffering, and disillusionment had left most of the Spanish population acquiescent, willing to accept any system that could restore peace and stability.

During the first phase of the regime, the military played a major role. The state of martial law that was declared in July 1936 remained in effect until 1948. With the backing of the armed forces, Franco used his extensive powers to invalidate all laws of the Second Republic that offended his political and ethical beliefs. He banned civil marriage, made divorce illegal, and made religious education compulsory in the schools. Publications were subject to prior censorship, and public meetings required official permission. He returned most of the land nationalized under the republic's agrarian program to its original owners. The state destroyed trade unions, confiscating their funds and property. Vertical syndicates replaced the unions.

In 1939 Franco initiated a program of reconstruction based on the concept of economic self-sufficiency or autarchy. The program, aimed at increasing national economic production, favored the established industrial and financial interests at the expense of the lower classes and the agricultural regions. Acute shortages and starvation wages were widespread in the early 1940s, a period which saw the worst inflation in Spain's history. By the end of the decade, Spain's level of economic development was among the lowest in southern Europe. Furthermore, the ostracism that Spain experienced because of Franco's collaboration with the Axis powers during World War II and because of the dictatorial nature of his regime deprived the country of the benefits of the Marshall Plan, which was a major factor in the rebuilding of Europe's postwar economy.

As the 1940s drew to a close, agricultural imbalances, labor unrest, and a growing pressure for industrial development forced the regime to begin to modify its autarchic policies. Spain's need for food, raw materials, energy, and credit made it necessary for the country to establish some link to the international economy. Spain achieved this goal when the United States decided to seek the political and strategic advantages of Spanish friendship in the face of an increasingly aggressive Soviet Union. With the infusion of American capital, Spain's economy revived, and living standards began to improve. There was a degree of economic liberalization, and industrial production increased significantly in the 1950s. Economic liberalization did not result in a relaxation of authoritarian control, however. The regime swiftly repressed workers' demonstrations in the spring of 1951 and student protests in 1956.

The regime's "families" did not agree unanimously on the new economic policies, and there were clashes between the progressive and the reactionary forces. The Falange resisted the opening of the regime to capitalistic influences, while the technocrats of the powerful Catholic pressure group, Opus Dei, de-emphasized the role of the syndicates and favored increased competition as a means of achieving rapid economic growth. The technocrats prevailed, and members of Opus Dei assumed significant posts in Franco's 1957 cabinet. Although Opus Dei did not explicitly support political liberalization, it aspired to economic integration with Europe, which meant that Spain would be exposed to democratic influences.

Measures proposed by these technocrats to curb inflation, to reduce government economic controls, and to bring Spanish economic policies and procedures in line with European standards were incorporated in the Stabilization Plan of 1959. The plan laid the basis for Spain's remarkable economic transformation in the 1960s. During that decade, Spain's industrial production and standard of living increased dramatically.

Rapid economic development had political and social consequences, however. Economic expansion resulted in a larger and better educated middle class than had ever existed in Spain, as well as in a new urban working class. Furthermore, the unprecedented degree of foreign cultural influence had a marked impact on Spanish society. All of these factors contributed to an increasing level of dissatisfaction with the restrictions that Franco had imposed. These restrictions were seen as impediments to further growth and modernization.

The technocrats had hoped that greater economic prosperity would eliminate hostility toward Francoism, but tension between an increasingly dynamic Spanish society and the oppressive regime that governed it resulted in growing domestic opposition throughout the 1960s. The expanding industrial labor force became increasingly militant. Workers organized clandestine commissions, and recurrent strikes and bombings were indications that Franco would not be able to maintain his repressive grip on the labor force indefinitely.

In addition, regional discontent was giving rise to escalating violent protests in the Basque region and in Catalonia. Agitation was also growing among university students who resented the strictures of Franco's regime. There was even opposition among the members of one of Franco's former bastions of support, the clergy. The younger liberal priests in the Catholic Church in Spain had responded with enthusiasm to the Second Vatican Council, which emphasized individual liberties and progressive social policies. The priests were also increasingly vocal in their attacks on the oppressive aspects of Francoism.

The unrest of the mid-1960s did not seriously threaten Spain's stability, however, and Franco--after twenty-five years in power--felt the regime was sufficiently secure and economically booming for a slight loosening of his authoritarian control. The Organic Law of the State, which had been approved by referendum in 1966, provided this modicum of liberalization while it solidified Franco's political system. The Law on Religious Freedom, approved in June 1967, eased restrictions on non-Catholics. In the same year, the regime modified censorship laws, and a considerably wider expression of opinion followed. In July 1969, Franco provided his regime with a greater degree of legitimacy and continuity by naming as his successor a legitimate heir to the throne, Prince Juan Carlos de Borbon.

The closing years of Franco's regime were marked by increasing violence and unrest. The anticipation of the dictator's demise and his increasing incapacity destabilized the country, and there was ongoing conflict between those who sought to liberalize the regime in order to secure its survival and those of the bunker mentality who resisted reforms. As a recession in the late 1960s overtook rapid economic expansion, labor agitation heightened. An unprecedented wave of strikes and increasing rebellion in the universities moved Franco to proclaim a state of exception throughout Spain in the early months of 1969. Freedom of expression and assembly were among the constitutional rights that were suspended, and Spain appeared to be returning to the repressive conditions of the 1940s. The revival of dictatorial policies had international repercussions and threatened negotiations with the United States for renewal of an agreement on United States military bases. Franco lifted the state of exception in March 1969, but the government's efforts to achieve legitimacy had been seriously undermined. The remaining years of Franco's rule saw periods of intensified opposition to which the government responded with harshly repressive measures that merely served to broaden and to inflame the resistance, leaving the regime in a state of constant turmoil.

The most virulent opposition to the Franco regime in the late 1960s and the early 1970s came from the revolutionary Basque nationalist group, Basque Fatherland and Freedom (Euskadi Ta Askatasuna--ETA). This extremist group used terror tactics and assassinations to gain recognition of its demands for regional autonomy. The ETA's most daring act was the assassination in December 1973 of Luis Carrero Blanco, whom Franco had appointed as his first prime minister. Carrero Blanco had embodied hard-line Francoism, and he was seen as the one who would carry on the Caudillo's policies. His assassination precipitated the regime's most serious governmental crisis and interrupted the continuity that Franco had planned.

The tensions that had been mounting within the regime since the late 1960s would have made a continuation of Franco's system untenable even without Carrero Blanco's death. Conflicts between the reactionary elements of the regime and those who were willing to open the door to reform had plagued Carrero Blanco. These conflicts continued under his successor, Carlos Arias Navarro. In his first speech to the Cortes on February 12, 1974, the new prime minister promised liberalizing reforms, including the right to form political associations; however, diehard Francoists on the right, who equated any change with chaos, and radical reformers on the left, who were not content with anything less than a total break with the past, condemned Arias Navarro.

Both camps were dissatisfied with the political associations bill that eventually became law in December 1974. The law required that political participation be in accord with the principles of the National Movement and placed associations under its jurisdiction. The law offered no significant departure from Francoism. Would-be reformers saw it as a sham; reactionaries criticized it as the beginning of a limited political party system.

Opposition to the regime mounted on all sides in 1974 and 1975. Labor strikes, in which even actors participated, spread across the country. Universities were in a state of turmoil, as the popular clamor for democracy grew more strident. Terrorist activity reached such a level that the government placed the Basque region under martial law in April 1975. By the time of Franco's death on November 20, 1975, Spain was in a chronic state of crisis.

Franco's legacy had been an unprecedented era of peace and order, undergirded by his authoritarian grip on the country. While forced political stability enabled Spain to share in the remarkable period of economic development experienced by Europe in the 1960s, it suppressed, but did not eliminate, longstanding sources of conflict in Spanish society. The economic and social transformation that Spain experienced in the last decades of Francoist rule complicated these tensions, which were exacerbated as the regime drew to a close. At the time of Franco's death, change appeared inevitable. The form that the change would take and the extent to which it could be controlled were less certain.

Ferdinand and Isabella

Charles V and Philip II
Spain in Decline
War of the Spanish Succession
The Enlightenment
The Napoleonic Era
The Cadiz Cortes

Rule by Pronunciamiento
Liberal Rule
The Cuban Disaster
The African War
Franco's Political System

Policies, Programs, and Growing Popular Unrest
Foreign Policy under Franco
Transition to Democracy

Disenchantment with UCD Leadership
Growth of the PSOE
Foreign Policy in the Post-Franco Period

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress