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Franco’s Failure

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Arturo Reque Meruvia «Kemer»: Alegoría de Franco y la Cruzada (1948 - 1949)

Arturo Reque Meruvia “Kemer”: Alegoría de Franco y la Cruzada (1948-1949)

Translated by Guillaume Durocher

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.[1]

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.”[2] 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.”[3] This would be done after Franco’s death.


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.


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  1. Leon
    Posted October 26, 2015 at 11:58 am | Permalink

    “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.”

    Something the Polish supporters of Law and Justice could learn from Franco’s failure.

  2. Lucian Tudor
    Posted September 24, 2015 at 7:36 pm | Permalink

    In my opinion there is a lot in this article that is missing in terms of making a proper analysis of Franco’s failings. I think the way the article analyzes the Catholic Church in connection to Franco’s “failure” is rather simplistic and narrow because it does not take into account the various political, economic, and social factors – both in Spain and the world as a whole – that contributed to the development being discussed here. First of all, I usually find that whatever flaws or corruption one can point out in the Christian Church is typically merely a reflection of the society or nations it resides in. Also, consider for example whether Franco’s state would have concluded the same way if the Axis powers had won WW2. Likewise, take the Falangist Cantarero del Castillo who became a Marxist. Putting aside the fact that the quote Venner provides by him makes him sound as though he is the type of person who supports revolution for revolution’s sake (which I find rather annoying), one has to connect why he abandonded Falangism (a Third Position ideology) and took up Marxism as a replacement to the world situation at the time. By the 1960’s, most Third Position movements/states have either died out or have become incredibly marginalized, therefore choosing a more dominant ideology (such as Marxism) makes sense from a purely practical standpoint (albeit it is certainly not an admirable way to go).

  3. Proofreader
    Posted September 23, 2015 at 6:10 am | Permalink

    The British communist Harry Pollitt is said to have ruefully remarked to one of his Soviet handlers that “our crises are imported from abroad.” In other words, whenever there was a crisis in the Soviet bloc, there would also be a crisis within the Communist Party of Great Britain. Mutatis mutandis, Catholic conservatives and patriots could have said the same thing about the church to which they pledged their loyalties, if they could think clearly and speak frankly. Vatican II is a textbook example of this.

    A seemingly ubiquitous, perennial, and incorrigible weakness of Christians and conservatives is their inability to correctly identify their enemies and their blind loyalty to institutions that have been captured by their enemies. (As William H. Sheldon nicely put it, when the devil captures a position he rarely bothers to change the flag.)

  4. Horus
    Posted September 23, 2015 at 3:42 am | Permalink

    There is need to be article here about the Vatican II and the role that “converted” jews inside the Church hierarchy in remaking Catholicism in the ’60s.

    This is from a well known jewish newspaper:

  5. Capercaillie
    Posted September 22, 2015 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

    The fact that the Catholic Church turned its back on the Franquist regime is even more shocking if you take into account the genocidal hatred and violence it suffered during the war. Thousands of catholics, from bishops and priests to ordinary laymen, were murdered, many of them in very vicious and sadistic ways, by the forces of the Popular Front; countless churches, archives, libraries and artistic legacy, destroyed or damaged. This hatred from the Left was previous to the war itself.

    Therefore, you can say that Franco and its army saved the Church from extermination -and the historic, artistic and monumental heritage linked to the Church, from further destruction.

    However, as everybody knows, the sixties were a turning point, not only for the Church. The whole culture of the West suffered a deep change from the sixties onwards.

    • Verlis
      Posted September 23, 2015 at 1:14 am | Permalink

      What’s so shocking about it? The church simply realized that it had a lot more in common with the left than it previously thought. And anyway, in an age of mass literacy, mass media and rapid economic development, leftist ‘people power’ is a superior vehicle for securing the church’s position than monarchs or military strongmen.

      • Capercaillie
        Posted September 23, 2015 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

        Perhaps I didn’t choose the right word.

  6. Posted September 22, 2015 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

    Franco saved Spain and ruled as a mostly benevolent Nationalist/Traditionalist leader. He was much like Governor Wade Hampton in SC or Chile’s Pinochet. Was he perfect? Of course not. But he united the Right and defeated the Left. And he rebuilt Spain’s economy and died believing he had left the country in good hands – which was his major failing as the king ultimately put his finger to the wind and decided to go with the Western democratic liberals.

    In his defense Franco had few real allies after Portugal fell to the liberals.

    • Capercaillie
      Posted September 22, 2015 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

      Franco was somewhat aware of what was coming. In 1970, Richard Nixon sent general Vernon Walters to Spain in order to find out what did Franco think about the future of the country after his death. This was his answer:

      “Spain will go far in the way you -Americans, English and French alike- expect: democracy, pornography, drugs and who knows what else. There will be serious craziness but none of them will be fatal for Spain.” He then pointed to his main legacy: the middle class.

      Anyway, I don’t think he was able to foresee the depth of the changes that would take place in the following decades.

  7. Petronius
    Posted September 22, 2015 at 11:10 am | Permalink

    I don’t get it – “Nietzsche, Spengler, or Heidegger would remain strictly forbidden” in Franquist Spain? Seriously?

    • Greg Johnson
      Posted September 22, 2015 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

      Meaning that the Church would not approve translations of them.

  8. Posted September 22, 2015 at 1:36 am | Permalink

    The Church is an artifact, perhaps a necessary artifact, but a cultural artifact nonetheless; and one can no more build a lasting social policy upon it than one can guarantee a nation’s security by having excellent art museums.

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