Translator’s Note: This article is drawn from Dominique Venner’s history of the twentieth century, Le Siècle de 1914 (Paris: Pygmalion, 2006), 281–83, under the heading “Le retournement de l’Église.” The title is editorial.
The passing of the Falange chief [José Antonio Primo de Rivera] and of its other leaders left the field open to General [Francisco] Franco, who maneuvered to exploit the movement to his benefit. In 1937, he imposed its fusion with all Right-wing parties (monarchists, Carlists, republican conservatives), in order to neutralize its revolutionary potential. Because of his refusal to submit, Manuel Hedilla, one of the rare survivors of the original leadership, was sentenced to death. A sentence which was later commuted after a long imprisonment. Simultaneously, with a perfect cynicism, the Franquist authorities would take advantage of the cult of José Antonio. He would be all the more celebrated so as to better bury him.
After having repudiated all the ideologies which had participated in the Frente popular, the Franquist regime sought its own ideology. Officially, this would be the program of the Falange. But a program is not an ideology. The latter would be provided by the Church and the Catholic action groups in which Franco entrusted his entire confidence, and whose means had considerably increased in the crusading atmosphere of the national zone. No attention was given to the fact that, alongside Calvo Sotelo’s old conservative party (CEDA) and the Catholic hierarchy, subsisted left-wing groups saved by their Catholicism.
The anti-clerical generals died, like [Emilio] Mola, or were marginalized like [Miguel] Cabanellas and [Gonzalo] Queipo de Llano. The others aligned themselves with the Caudillo who flaunted his intransigent Catholicism. He went to mass every morning, which did not, however, lead him to evangelical softness. In fact only trusting the Catholic Church on intellectual matters, a guarantee of stability in his eyes, he entrusted to it the control of education, from kindergarten up to the universities. As for the Falange, despite professing its unfailing attachment to Catholicism, it was held in suspicion. Its proximity to fascism, though denied, suggested a worrying scent of paganism. There was then no question of leaving to it any influence over education. A rigid ecclesiastical censorship was applied to all books and all cultural activities, which were confined to a strict clerical orthodoxy.
The Franquist alliance of the sword and the altar would be suddenly broken following the council of Vatican II (1962–1965). From one day to the next, besides resistance on the margins, the Church of Spain, like elsewhere, would reverse course and turn in favor of the ideology of human rights already prepared by the teams of the Opus Dei and already very influential since 1957. Finished were the “crusade” against communism and the celebration of the fatherland, order, and authority. In its stead came a humanitarian phraseology in harmony with the Christian redemption of the poor and the déclassés. All that would remain of the old reactionary arsenal would be the rejection of the contraception, a meager legacy, one must concede, for maintaining the national cause.
In a revealing choice, Spanish publishing, always subjected to ecclesiastical censorship, would be authorized to publish the Marxist classics or the main Left-wing writers, such as Marcuse or Reich, while Nietzsche, Spengler, or Heidegger would remain strictly forbidden.
Under the incredulous and powerless watch of the old generals, what was once celebrated would be held in contempt and rejected by the clergy. Having failed to read (and understand) Nietzsche and his Genealogy of Morals, the naïve soldiers who had bet everything on the alliance with the Church, giving it the monopoly on culture, would discover too late that they had allowed a virus into their flock. In reality, this phenomenon was too beyond their understanding for them to foresee it. In their simple brains, they would believe only various conspiracies would need to be broken for all to become as before.
The result would be commented upon by Cantarero del Castillo, who was an expert. He was indeed a former Falangist who had become a social democrat (a common evolution). From the late sixties onwards, he says, “the most sensitive portion of the university youth debate in a chimerical and alienating sea of perfectly unlivable revolutionary projects, no longer Falangist, but communist or Guevarist.” The end of the Franquist era would illustrate Gramsci’s well-known thesis: “Once it is converted to values which are not its own, society shakes upon its foundations and the situation then need only be exploited in the political field.” This would be done after Franco’s death.
Notes:1. On this question, see the thesis of Arnaud Imatz, José Antonio et la Phalange (Paris: Albatros, 1981), the chapter on “La vie intellectuelle, culturelle et morale,” 532. See also Andrée Bachoud, Franco (Paris: Fayard, 1997), 195-200, 453-454.
2. Quoted in Imatz, José Antonio et la Phalange, 540.
3. Translated from the French, unfortunately. – G.D.