Franco

“Franco” by Stanley Payne and Jesus Palacios is a biography of Francisco Franco the dictator of Spain from 1939 to 1975. Although a right-wing dictator who supported Hitler in his war against Communism, Franco survived World War II in power and, after a long reign, bequeathed Spain an increasingly prosperous society that would transform into a stable parliamentary democracy after his death.

Franco had been one of the most respected and celebrated generals of the Monarchy and later Republican Spanish governments before taking power during the Spanish Revolution of 1936-1939 with substantial military help from both Hitler and Mussolini. Franco’s traditionalist, conservative leanings initially caused him to be loyal to whatever government was in power but the advent of Spain’s first leftist leaning democracy -a parliamentary Republic- caused him to agree to join and later lead much of the military in rebellion against it. The leftist Popular Front who came to power in the Republican government unleashed revolutionary forces who engaged in church burnings, looting, the collectivization of private property, and the physical harassment of rightists and Catholics. The Popular Front was supported by Communist Russia during the Spanish Revolution.

During World War II, Franco tilted toward the Axis and almost joined the war on its side, but never did due to the weakness of his countries economy and military forces which were not ready for war. He did supply Germany with submarine bases, intelligence, and indispensable raw materials as well as a division to fight against Russian Communism on the Eastern Front. The subsequent Allied victory impelled Franco to distance his regime from fascism and reinvent himself as an anti-Communist conservative Catholic. Franco was a devout, traditional Catholic who drank sparingly and did not smoke or have any known marital infidelities. Franco was able to secure an American alliance and loans during the Cold War.

The period from 1950 to 1975 was the time of the greatest sustained economic development and general improvement in living standards for Spain. Franco’s regime attempted to develop what twenty years later would be called the “Chinese model” of state capitalism combined with free-enterprise economics and integration into the international economy, governed by an authoritarian political system (although with greater freedom than China today). However, the resulting modernization and somewhat liberalization of society necessary to accomplish this brought about a common materialist mindset and mass consumer culture to the people of Spain along with a cultural and religious counter revolution that tended to subvert the basic institutions and conservative religious values that Franco favored. Franco planned to restore the monarchy after his death and nominated Juan Carlos, a heir to the throne, to be king after his death. He did become king but decided to establish a constitutional monarchy and led Spain to democracy.

This book is an excellent, very detailed biography of Franco. It is a rather long book and is only for someone interested in Franco or the history of Spain. Having said that, this was a highly readable and extremely insightful biography that situates Franco not only in his Spanish context but also in the global context of 20th-century dictatorships.