José Antonio And Catalan Regional Culture: A Historical MisunderstandingIntroduction
Ever since the birth of the concept of nationhood, conflicting ideas regarding this term have frequently increased the tension among European peoples. In Spain, for instance, regional and national interests have been clashing with each other for over 150 years. Even today, there are many organisations and individuals who challenge the unity of Spain. Due to the survival of regionalism in modern Spain, the country's 20th century history is still a sensitive subject, as the oppression of regional cultures by general Francisco Franco's dictatorship (1939-1975) is closely related to the persisting prevalence of regional nationalist sentiment. As a result, the different historical perspectives are often marred by political interest and bias.
This bias can also be noticed in the historiography of the Falange Española (Spanish Phalanx), a Spanish fascistic party founded in 1933 that was to become the only legal party during the Franco dictatorship. Due to this, the ideology of the Falange is often confused with that of Franco, leading to many misconceptions about the Falange's political ideology in the first years of its existence. Particularly the party's founder and initial leader, José Antonio Primo de Rivera, continues to be one of the most misunderstood figures in modern Spanish history. Hailed as a martyr by the Franco propaganda, he actually held views that stood in sharp contrast with those of many contemporary conservatives, including Franco himself.
Perhaps the most misunderstood part of his ideology is the way in which he perceived culturally distinct regions such as Catalonia and Basque Country, where separatist sentiments have traditionally been the most prevalent. While he is often identified with the monocultural, rigidly centralist views of the Franco regime, Primo de Rivera actually had a vision of Spain that might be more comparable with the pluriform interpretation of the Spanish state that has been dominant ever since the country became a democracy in 1978.
The question I will be looking to answer is: "What are the views of José Antonio Primo de Rivera and his Falange party concerning the regionalist issue in Catalonia, and how are they different from the conservative political currents they are often identified with?" First, I will analyse articles in which Primo de Rivera himself expresses his views on the matter. Next, I will use several scientific sources to provide a full and balanced answer on my thesis question.Historical background
José Antonio Primo de Rivera was born on the 24th of April, 1903 in an aristocratic, relatively wealthy family. As was customary among boys of his social class, he went to university, where he studied law. After obtaining his doctor's degree in 1923, he went into military service. Upon his return from duty, a year later, he started working as a lawyer in Madrid. During this period (from 1923 to 1930), his father, Miguel Primo de Rivera, ruled over Spain as a dictator.
José Antonio himself, however, did not occupy himself much with politics during these years. It was not until 1931 that he started becoming politically active, initially dedicating himself to the active support of various conservative Catholic parties. A year earlier, Miguel Primo de Rivera's resignation and subsequent death had given leeway to the installation of a democratic republic that would become known as the Second Spanish Republic. Countless new political parties and movements were emerging, but despite this wide array of options, José Antonio did not feel comfortable with any of these parties.
This lack of political satisfaction led him to found his own party, the Falange Española (Spanish Phalanx), in 1933. Especially in the party's founding year, the Falange's ideology was strongly based on the Italian fascist movement of Benito Mussolini, a man whom José Antonio greatly admired. Being the first party of significance in Spain that was modelled after fascism, the Falange occupied a unique position within the country's political spectrum, which had, up until that point, been dominated by a fairly straightforward mix of traditional conservative parties and progressive left-wing parties inspired by Marxism. The Falange, however, offered a mixture of these two political currents, supporting strong Spanish nationalism while at the same time pushing for a thorough reorganisation of the economy. In practice, this meant that the Falange was heavily in favour of maintaining the Spanish state, but also supported concepts such as the redistribution of wealth, the nationalisation of banks and more rights for the working class.(1)
As is common with new political movements, the support for the Falange was initially to be found mainly among students, young people with generally wealthy backgrounds who were aware of the economic and social chaos caused by traditional politics. As time progressed, however, the party also gained significant support among the working and middle classes. Still it must be noted that, despite the fame and infamy of the party during the first years of its existence, their support was limited, barely exceeding a few thousand members.(2)The Falange and regionalism
Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the falangist ideology was the party's acknowledgment of the existence of regional cultures, such as those of Catalonia, Basque Country and Galicia, as opposed to traditional nationalists. Previously, such a position had been characteristic of progressive, left-wing movements and parties. Up until then, Spanish nationalists had claimed that local customs, languages and traditions posed a threat to the unity of Spain. However, the Falange argued that it was not necessary to prohibit, suppress or deny such regional expressions of culture.
The motivation for this unusual position can be found in the definition that Primo de Rivera and his Falange gave to nationhood. In Ensayo sobre el nacionalismo (Essay on Nationalism), Primo de Rivera made a distinction between two forms of nationalism. The first school, labelled by him as 'romantic nationalism', focuses primarily on those aspects that are closest to man's nature: race, language, traditions, customs, etc. As an example of this type of nationalism, Primo de Rivera mentions Germany, where Hitler and his Nazis were striving for unity in race, language and belief, and attempted to rearrange territories based on parameters strongly related to ethnicity. The other type of nationalism defined by Primo de Rivera can best be described as 'universal' or 'historical nationalism', as it defines nationhood by the historical context in which the people within a certain territory emerged.(3)
In the case of Spain, this 'historical context' mostly refers to the country's past as an imperial world power. For the falangists, Spain's imperial age meant the birth of the country as a nation. As Primo de Rivera stated in parliament, they saw Spain as "an imperial vocation that unites languages, races, peoples and customs in a universal destiny". According to Primo de Rivera's definition of nationalism, this common historical context meant that the Spanish people were obliged to face the future in a united fashion.(4)
Because of this unusual interpretation of nationhood, the falangists were able to acknowledge the distinct cultural traits of Catalonia without having to acknowledge it as a separate nation. After all, in the view of the falangists, nationhood depended on other parameters than language, customs, etc.The Falange and centralism
This regionalist-friendly stance contrasted with the views of traditional Spanish nationalists. Many conservatives saw no other way of preserving the unity of Spain than to fiercely combat any form of regional cultural expression in Catalonia. As a result, they proposed using Castile, the central region of Spain, as an obligatory cultural model for Catalonia, and indeed the rest of the country. Perhaps the best known example of this is their opposition against the use of Catalan, a Romance language spoken in Catalonia, Valencia and the Balearic Isles, and their desire to only allow the use of Castilian, the language we know simply as 'Spanish'.
Aware of these centralist sentiments, Primo de Rivera argued that such views were only helping the Catalan separatist cause. In parliament, he commented: "if we keep denying that Catalonia and other regions have their own characteristics, it is because we silently acknowledge that these characteristics justify [their] nationhood." He also claimed that the approach of the centralists attacked those aspects closest to the nature of the Catalan people (their language and customs), and therefore would only fuel the fire of aversion against the Spanish state.(4)
Primo de Rivera or his Falange never got the chance to develop a complete and detailed ideology regarding this subject, let alone put it to practice. After Primo de Rivera had been imprisoned and subsequently executed by the Republican government in the wake of the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), general Franco took control of the Falange party and merged it with various ultra-conservative movements, the most famous of which is the requetés, Basque militia known for their fierce anti-communist stance and religious devotion. To cater to the desires of the conservatives, nearly all of the 'leftist' ideals of the Falange ideology were dropped, including the party's lenient views on regional cultures. This became apparent when the new Falange became the only legal party under the Franco dictatorship, and Franco himself went on to obsessively repress any form of regional culture in Catalonia during the next four decades.Conclusion
The views of Primo de Rivera and his Falange regarding Catalonia differed greatly from the centralist ideal of an all-Castilian state. The most centralised government in the entire history of Spain, the Franco regime heavily contrasted with Primo de Rivera's ideal of Spain as a culturally diverse country in many ways. In fact, while the franquist propaganda machine granted Primo de Rivera the status of martyr almost immediately after his death, the policies of the Franco dictatorship had next to nothing in common with the way in which the original Falange approached the Catalan issue.
What would have happened if Primo de Rivera were to have lived through the Civil War is mere speculation, but it is certain that his views on nationhood would not have been compatible with the way in which Franco structured the Spanish state. This contradicts the fairly common identification of Primo de Rivera with the Franco regime, as well as the misconception that Spanish nationalists had to be centralist by default.
On a more politically relevant note, Primo de Rivera's approach to nationality and nation building is particularly interesting when one observes how the European Union - despite or perhaps because of pushing for national symbols such as a flag and a national anthem - consistently fails to create a 'European sentiment' among the people of this continent. This confirms that there are plenty of reasons why this topic is in need of more thorough investigation.Notes
(1) Payne, Stanley. Fascism in Spain
, p. 80-81, 90, 100. (The University of Winsconsin Press, 1999)
(2) Thomas, Hugh. The Spanish Civil War
, p. 115. (Penguin Books, 1986)
(3) Primo de Rivera, José Antonio. Ensayo sobre el nacionalismo
(4) Primo de Rivera, José Antonio. España y Cataluña