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Miguel Primo de Rivera

Miguel Primo de Rivera

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Miguel Primo de Rivera was born into a wealthy family in Jerez, Spain, in 1870. He joined the army and took part in the colonial wars in Morocco, Cuba and the Philippines.

After the First World War Primo de Rivera held several important military posts including the captain-generalship of Valencia, Madrid and Barcelona. On the death of his uncle in 1921 he became Marques de Estella.

With the support of Alfonso XIII and the army Primo de Rivera led a military coup in September 1923. He promised to eliminate corruption and to regenerate Spain. In order to do this he suspended the constitution, established martial law and imposed a strict system of censorship.

Primo de Rivera initially said he would rule for only 90 days, however, he broke this promise and remained in power. Little social reform took place but he tried to reduce unemployment by spending money on public works. To pay for this Primo de Rivera introduced higher taxes on the rich. When they complained he changed his policies and attempted to raise money by public loans. This caused rapid inflation and after losing support of the army was forced to resign in January 1930.

Miguel Primo de Rivera, the father of José Antonio Primo de Rivera, died from diabetes on 16th March 1930.

We have reason on our side and, therefore, force, though so far we have used force with moderation. If an attempt is made to trick us into a compromise which our conscience considers dishonourable, we shall demand greater penalties, and impose them with greater severity. Neither I, nor the garrisons of Aragon, from whom I have just received a telegram in support, will agree to anything but a military dictatorship. If the politicians make an attempt to defend themselves, we shall do the same, relying on the help of the people, whose reserves of energy are great. Today we are resolved on moderation, but, on the other hand, we shall not shrink from bloodshed.

Unlike the national rising against an even graver situation that set off civil war in 1936, General Primo de Rivera's move was a classic coup d'etat, swiftly and ably executed by a man who did not hesitate to take the entire responsibility on his shoulders. He relied on the partially expressed support of the Army, though not all its leaders backed Primo, nor were they with him unflinchingly until the end.

There was no opposition from political parties or labour unions. The majority of the nation resigned itself to a fait accompli and hoped for the best, or for something sensational, but there were no street scenes, no riots, no shooting. Objective and far-sighted citizens, without a stake in the political arena and no possibility of gain from turbulence and unrest, heaved a sigh of relief and applauded the coup d'etat, once its success became evident.

A brief period sufficed to show that the dictator meant business. Instead of persecuting his predecessors or making them responsible for the shortcomings of the regime, Primo de Rivera devoted himself to constructive work. The murder of two postal employees in a railway van, committed shortly after his access to power and punished by a Court of Justice with the extreme rigour of the law, showed that crime was no longer profitable. Plans for military action in Spanish Morocco were revised from bottom to top; in less than three years, the entire Protectorate was pacified and the war was brought to a victorious end.

There were no strikes, production attained new levels, private enterprise flourished. A network of roads, properly banked and well-surfaced, spread over the country. At long last, Spain's valuable hydraulic resources began to be harnessed and exploited. Work was carried out in harbours and railways, schools were built, industry and trade registered progress, and national economy soared. Two exhibitions of an impressive character, held in Seville and Barcelona in the year 1929, proved that Spain could thrive rapidly under a system guaranteeing peace, prosperity and the rule of practical law.

Biography of Miguel Primo de Rivera y Orbaneja (1870-1930)

Military and Spanish politician born in Jerez de la Frontera (Cádiz) on January 8, 1870 and died in Paris on March 17, 1930. He/She was head of Government and Chairman of the military implemented by himself in 1923 by the means of a coup, occupied this position until his resignation in 1930.

Don Miguel Primo de Rivera. F. Godoy.

Military career

Member of an illustrious and numerous Cadiz family of military tradition, from his childhood his education was directed towards military career. At the age of fourteen, in 1884, he/she entered the Military Academy and after investigating it was destined to Melilla, where he/she managed a series of quick promotions up to the rank of Captain, and where in 1893 he/she was awarded the medal laureate of San Fernando. After his stay in the African coast was destined to Cuba (1895), under the orders of the captain general Arsenio Martínez Campos, there was promoted to Commander. Later, in 1897, he/she was sent to the Philippines, to be his uncle, Fernando Primo de Rivera , appointed captain-general of the Islands. With this, Miguel had served on the last remnants of the Spanish Empire and had come into contact with the various problems that gangrenaban the last Hispanic possessions overseas, which would mark his life permanently.

In 1902 he/she married Casilda Sáenz de Heredia, with whom he/she had six children his eldest son, José Antonio, was the founder of Falange Española. In 1908, Miguel was promoted to Colonel, and a few months after his wife died not be able to overcome is the birth of his sixth child. He/She was again appointed to Africa where he/she participated in the war of Morocco (1909-1927). In 1912 he/she was appointed brigadier general on their merits in the African war, thus being the first valedictorian in ascending to the Generalate. On his return to Spain he/she was appointed military Governor of Cádiz.

Throughout the first world war he/she was commissioned by the Government as French and British observer of some military campaigns of the allies, especially in the fronts. miguel Primo de Rivera was a military "Africanist", due to his military career and his promotions occurred mostly in Africa, but which was contrary to the system of promotion of the Spanish army which took precedence to the Africanist over the rest of the officers, the so-called "junteros". On March 25, 1917, on the occasion of a lecture at the Royal Academy Hispanoamericana de Cádiz, Miguel starred in his first public scandal by declaring: "Morocco nor any part of Africa is in Spain "generous and abundant blood spilled Africa not be able to ever deeper and more useful justification that the have been in possession of something that serves to recover Gibraltar".

In July 1919 he/she was promoted to lieutenant general and was appointed captain general of Valencia. Soon after, he/she left Valencia to take charge of the captaincy general of Madrid. As captain general of Madrid held a hard confrontation with the Government that ultimately cost him the resignation. In November 1921, while discussing in Parliament about the disaster of Annual, Primo de Rivera insisted defended what posture to the Royal Spanish Academy American "I think, from a strategic point of view, that a soldier beyond the Strait, is detrimental to Spain". Because of these statements was relieved of the captaincy general of Madrid, since the Government was aiming to maintain at all costs the last colonies. In the famous disaster of Annual your uncle Fernando died, so Miguel inherited the title of Marquis of Estella.

Next year, in May 1922, the Government named him captain general of Barcelona, a job complicated by the tense social reality that currently existed in all of Catalonia, and especially in Barcelona, motivated by the confrontation between radical anti-absolutist sectors and the central Government, the incidence of the pistolerismo and great social unrest. miguel Primo de Rivera won the support of the sectors more conservatives of the Lliga Regionalista thanks to its policy of strong hand against crime and criminality.

The first 20 years were marked in Spain by an intense conflict and unrest, at a time of already if it whooping across Europe by the end of the first world war. To this is added the discomfort of the military due to the continuous defeats of the army in Morocco, especially when even the memory of 1898 remained alive, and the scandal raised by Picasso record, document drawn up to try to debug the responsibilities of the disaster of Annual. Both for the army and the rest of society, the carelessness of the Government regarding the issue of Spanish prisoners in the hands of Abd el-Krim, was a focus of continued unrest. All these events were accompanied by a series of terrorist attacks, such as the murder of the Prime Minister Eduardo Dato (1921) by three anarchist gunmen.

At the beginning of 1923, from various sectors of Spanish society, military, industrial, and conservatives in general, began to contemplate the possibility of a coup, for some as the only way to solve the problems of the nation, and for others as a threat to the established regime. The head of the Government, Manuel García Prieto, operatives that the general Primo de Rivera if the much-feared coup, called the prestigious general Weyler so this to take charge of the captaincy general of Barcelona and thus removal of Primo de Rivera. However, before Weyler arrived to Barcelona, Miguel Torrico troops and took control of the State, was on September 13, 1923.

The dictatorship

The dictatorship of Primo de Rivera has been divided traditionally in two periods clearly defined, the military directory and civil directory.

On September 13, 1923, after consultation with the rest of the General captains, with the exception of the general Zabala, captain general of Valencia, who was supporter of the Government of García Prieto Primo de Rivera proclaimed the dictatorship, with the approval of the King Alfonso XIII. The new regime lacked a minimal ideological sustenance and was based only on the discontent of the military in relation to the policy by the former civilian Government of the restoration.

Primo de Rivera proclaimed himself Chairman of a military composed by characters whose most characteristic feature was their total lack of preparation and its null initiative to direct and provide resolution to the difficult political and social events of the time. The embryonic Spanish democracy was sacrificed for the sake of social conflict, the Constitution of 1876 was repealed, suppressed press freedom, pursued political dissidents and the Parliament was closed.

In relation to the Moroccan conflict, Primo de Rivera changed his previous stance what and starred in the disembarkation of Alhucemas (1925), Franco-Spanish military action that ended the long war.

Primo de Rivera with his officers, in Morocco.

Following the success of the military actions in Morocco, ultimately the main reason which had justified the coup d ' état, Primo de Rivera refused to leave power. On December 3, 1925 it dismantled the military directory and replaced it with one civil, which featured characters from greater political capacity as Martínez Anido, José Calvo Sotelo, Eduardo Aunós , or the conde de Guadalhorce. Civil directory had the support of the extreme right, the more conservative sectors of society and of a part of the army.

Paternalistic, populist, and archaic, Primo de Rivera Government proved disappointing even for those who had supported him from the beginning and had urged him to lead the coup. Little was what was done and even less what was done well, so the Government of Miguel was quickly losing all its support points.

miguel Primo de Rivera tried to give their political system of a democratic character, this created an organic Assembly, called the National Consultative Assembly, who was commissioned to write a new Constitution that should legitimize the new political regime. The National Consultative Assembly, constituted under the example of what has been done by Mussolini in Italy, was an absolute failure and the Constitution was never carried out. Another of their measures seudodemocraticas consisted in the creation of a political party that should give the regime of a political ideology, such party was the Spanish Patriotic Union (UPE), one-party dictatorship. The UPE catalyse the conservative aspects of Spanish society, while the Socialist Party should exercise political alternation, in imitation of what happened during the restoration. This two-party system of alternating failed also, since it was never applied.

Only in the economic field and public works the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera obtained some relative successes. Calvo Sotelo was able to control and reduce public debt, mainly through the creation of a series of economic monopolies in strategic sectors such as Campsa. In terms of public works, they were built, improved or expanded roads, ports, bridges and irrigation systems. However, the economic boom of the dictatorship collapsed with the stock market crisis of 1929.

From 1928, the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera began a fulminant process of political isolation and loss of support, which came at the hands of increasingly bad relations between the dictator and the monarch. By the same dates, Miguel had a sentimental relationship with Niní Castellanos, relationship that also failed.

The repeated failures of the dictatorship and the lack of freedoms caused a growing opposition movement, supported by intellectuals, students, political Liberal, trade unionists, certain sectors of the army and a large sector of society, especially in provincial capitals. To the growing strength of the opposition, and the loss of support, on January 28, 1930 Primo de Rivera submitted his irrevocable resignation to Alfonso XIII and left Spain.

miguel Primo de Rivera settled in Paris, where he/she died at the end of two months, on March 17, 1930. The death of Primo de Rivera was practically ignored by the Spanish regime.

A brief history of BBVA (III): The founding of the Banco de Vizcaya

Civil wars, banks that went almost as fast as they came, the brand-new issuing monopoly of the Bank of Spain, unrest in Spanish overseas territories… the later years of the 19th century sure did look challenging for institutions such as Banco de Bilbao. Although the bank had earned a solid footing in its home city, Spain’s situation at that time made it hard to tell how it would fare in the short and medium term.

State spending increased, there was a huge investment in public works, and monopolies were formed, such as those granted to Telefónica (created in 1924) and CAMPSA (1927). A vast plan of hydraulic works was undertaken in this period, along with the extension and improvement of Spanish roads and railways, which increased the size and quality of the domestic market.

The official banking sector

The Civil Directory created a conglomerate of official banks to enable the State to oversee and direct the aid to the various components of the economy at that time, even though its ownership was in private hands.

The Banco de Crédito Industrial (Industrial Credit Bank) was established in 1920, the Banco de Crédito Local (Local Credit Bank) in 1925, and the Banco Exterior de España (Spanish Foreign Bank) in 1929.

The purpose of the Banco de Crédito Industrial was to consolidate Spanish industry and grant long-term loans. The investors comprising the shareholder structure of this new banking institution included particularly the Banco de Bilbao and the Banco de Vizcaya. The Banco de Crédito Local, whose first governor was none other than José Calvo Sotelo, was intended to fund municipalities and regional governments. The Banco Exterior de España was the accomplishment of a longstanding dream of the business sector, namely funding aid for foreign trade, and assistance in their relations with other countries and in their search for new markets.

The Banco Hipotecario, which had been created in 1873 and continued to be funded by private capital, could have operated as a commercial bank, but it underwent a significant transformation with the change in its statutes to allow the entry of two directors on behalf of the State. The Banco Hipotecario changed its mission and became associated to housing construction policy.

The Banco de Bilbao and the Banco de Vizcaya

The progressive developments of the Cambó Law and the security and protectionism provided by the dictatorship led to the growth of the leading actors in the private banking sector. The number of branches rose, and there was also a rapid increase in coverage throughout the national territory. This was accompanied by a parallel surge in the number of customers and the volume of bank products, although there were undoubtedly significant regional imbalances in the banking industry.

The big banks had 156 branches in 1922, a figure that rose to 475 in 1926 and to 791 in the last year of Primo de Rivera's leadership, in 1929.

The Banco de Bilbao, particularly after 1925, opted to reinforce its security by following a considerably cautious –albeit not excessive– reserve policy. In contrast, the Banco de Vizcaya, a younger and more aggressive bank, did not stock its reserves as substantially as its neighbor and obtained more spectacular financial returns, at the expense of paying less attention to security.


Miguel Primo de Rivera was born in Jerez de la Frontera, Andalusia, Spain on 8 January 1870, the nephew of Philippines governor Fernando Primo de Rivera. He grew up in a notorious aristocratic family, and he served as a junior officer in the Spanish Army in Morocco, Cuba, and the Philippines before serving as captain-general of Valencia, Madrid, and Barcelona. He became a Brigadier-General in 1911, and he led a coup against the Cortes in 1923 in reaction to the Spanish army's defeat in the Rif War. Primo de Rivera became the head of a nationalist dictatorship, and he blamed Spain's ills on self-serving, old politicians. Primo de Rivera served as president of an eight-man supreme directory that ruled Spain, and he replaced civilian officials in the provinces with middle-ranking officers as martial law was declared. Primo de Rivera's reign saw a massive boost in foreign trade and infrastructural modernization, but he censored the press, closed the country's most famous literary/political club, declared the anarchist CNT illegal, banned the Catalan language in church services, oversaw increasing income disparity between the rich and poor as inflation set in, and implemented paternalistic conservatism as the form of government. In 1925, he dismissed the military directory and replaced it with civilians, but the constitution remained suspended. By 1930, Primo de Rivera had alienated conservatives, the army, and the left, and he appealed only to the elites in power. In January 1930, recognizing that King Alfonso XIII of Spain no longer backed him and that his military colleagues gave a lukewarm response to his staying on as president, Primo de Rivera was convinced to resign. He died of fever in Paris, France on 16 March 1930 at the age of 60.

Miguel Primo de Rivera (Vive l'Emperor)

Miguel Primo de Rivera was born on January 8th 1870. He came from an aristocratic military family, his father Miguel (1824 - 1891) was a brigadier general, his grandfather had been a general and his great-grandfather had fought during the 100 Days Campaign. Miguel received a good education and in 1885 his father secured him a commission as a lieutenant. In 1887 he became a captain and served with the royal guards. He rose through the ranks very quickly becoming a major (1890), lieutenant colonel (1894), colonel (1897) and in 1899 he became Spain's youngest ever brigadier general.

In 1902 he became a major general and military governor of Madrid, a post he retained until 1914. Upon the outbreak of war, French troops invaded Spain and place the Carlist pretender, Jaime, on the throne. As governor of Madrid Miguel was in a key position, he was a keen supporter of King Francis the IV, who in September had fled to America. Consequently Miguel resisted the French invasion and led Spanish troops during the battle of Madrid (October 1914). However, his troops were overwhelmed and he was forced to retreat south. But Rivera's troops were able to form a defensive position and formed an alliance with rebel Portuguese generals who wanted to overthrow the pro-French king Manuel II. By 1916 Rivera's forces had been reinforced by British and Italian troops and he was able to launch an offensive. He was able to capture much of southern Spain. On May 3rd 1916 king Francis returned to Spain and met with newly promoted General Rivera. The front then died down until late 1918, then de Rivera launched a swift offensive, and in only eight weeks he secured all of Spain. In late November king Jaime fled and Rivera entered Madrid with the king to a hero's welcome. Rivera was appointed interim prime minister at the head of an acting military government. He served for two months and then handed over power to a democratic government.

Upon his handing over of power Primo de Rivera was appointed Captain General of Spain, a rank that had rarely been used by non-monarchs. He represented Spain during the Geneva peace talks and remained a key figure in Spanish culture and politics. However Rivera didn't agree with the policies of Prime Minister Maura, he thought his government was weak and in early 1920 there was a general strike. In May 1920 there were several attempts by republican politicians and left wing movements to establish a republic in Spain. When Maura seemed indifferent about a republic or monarchy Rivera finally struck. In June 1920 he requested that King Francis appoint him prime minister, and that he would need to exercise dictatorial power to bring order to the country and preserve the monarchy. The King accepted The same day he assumed office he enforced martial law and military government throughout Spain. In the next three months over 15,000 people were arrested and about 1/3 of those were later executed.

Marshal Rivera often appeared alongside king Francis

Rivera's regime became more relaxed after 1922 and he became well liked by many conservative Spaniards. His regime was more liberal compared to that of Marshal Petain in France. In 1923 Rivera appointed himself and King Francis to the rank of Marshal of Spain. In 1924 President Pershing became the first serving US president to visit Spain and built up a strong relationship with the country. Rivera remained in power until his death in 1932.

Overlooked Regimes: the Dictatorship of General Miguel Primo de Rivera

The setting is Spain in 1923. The country is in disarray, politics heavily factionalized and the government is unable to effectively run the country. The Spanish army, one of the largest pressure groups in Spanish politics at this time, is becoming restless and threatening a military coup. In order to avoid mass anarchy the King of Spain [Alfonso XIII], who is ruling by name only, invites Primo de Rivera to turn his hand to running Spain. Thus begins the dictatorship of General Primo de Rivera.

Primo de Rivera’s dictatorship the key features:

Spain was put under the control of martial law, meaning that ordinary laws and regulations were suspended in favour of more intensive and strict rulings.

Enforcement of heavy censorship, most newspaper weren’t allowed to print

Creation of a new national party- the Union Patriotica [UP]. Mottos of the party included “Spain above all” and “Spain, One, Great and Indivisible”

Various attempts at revitalizing Spain’s failing economy by building roads and increasing steel and iron production.

Primo de Rivera’s cult of personality. Like most great dictators Primo de Rivera also created a heightened image of himself. Throughout his regime he was portrayed as the protective father of Spain and upon the start of his regime he was seen as the saviour of Spain. He was seen as brave and extraordinarily capable. Portraits of Primo began to appear in many public spaces.

The enemies of the regime:

Politicians: Primo de Rivera had an intense hatred of the Spanish political system and specifically the politicians in it. 1923-1926 was not a good time to be Spanish politician. However the disliked between these two groups was mutual, many Spanish politicians thought Primo de Rivera had no respect for law and order in Spain.

Students: some of the most active opponents to the Primo de Rivera regime were Spanish university students. In his crusade against some of his most vocal opponents Primo de Rivera had many students imprisoned. He even put the entire University of Madrid under the supervision of Royal Commissioners.

Throughout the years of his dictatorship Prime de Rivera continually claimed that his regime was a temporary measure, but time and time again he failed to hand back control. However his regime was such a disaster that by 1929 even the army [who were his biggest supporters in 1923] failed to support the regime, and consequently he was forced to resign.

Patria and Citizenship: Miguel Primo de Rivera, Caciques and Military Delegados, 1923–1924


In 1923, General Miguel Primo de Rivera seized power in Spain and established a dictatorship that would last until 1930. Obsessed by a belief in Spanish decline and the threat of imminent national disintegration, Primo intended to reshape the Spanish national psyche and create a new, virtuous citizen. This chapter explores the rise and fall of the ill-fated Delegados Gubernativos [Government Delegates], members of a corps of military inspectors dispatched throughout Spain to reform local government and instil patriotism in the population. By contrasting official regime discourse on the Delegados with an original selection of letters sent to the government by ordinary Spaniards, the chapter shows that the Delegados’ work proved to be unreliable and, often, damaging to the regime, a matter that rapidly put paid to Primo’s messianic belief that the military could achieve his vision of national homogeneity from above.

Shortly after seizing power in a coup d’état , General Miguel Primo de Rivera, the dictator who ruled Spain from 1923 to 1930, declared his intention to create a new citizenry in the towns and villages of the nation ( Gaceta de Madrid, 21 October 1923). 1 Though not a belligerent in the First World War, Spain had been profoundly affected by the conflict and in 1917 entered a period of sustained crisis that the creaking, undemocratic institutions of the Restoration State (1874–1923) seemed unable to overcome, culminating in this six-year period of dictatorship. From its ←147 | 148→ outset, the Primo de Rivera regime was motivated by an obsession with the perceived threat of imminent national disintegration and by a belief that Spain was afflicted by a backwardness brought on by the widespread political demobilization that had previously facilitated the predictable alternation of the main Restoration political parties in government, the so-called Turno Pacífico [Peaceful Turn]. 2 In its attempts to overcome these dangers, the regime made a considerable impact on the development of right-wing thought in Spain by articulating an anti-liberal ideology that was both modernizing and nationalist, threads that had not yet been synthesized coherently by any mainstream Spanish political movement.

For Primo de Rivera, Spanish political modernity was to be realized largely through mobilization of the population and nationalism became the primary tool through which the previously apathetic masses were to be reconciled to the State in the form of citizens. This led the regime to carry out a programme of indoctrination aimed at educating the population in the values of a new, authoritarian national identity that would replace the identity promoted by the seemingly moribund liberal State, a process of ‘mass nationalization’. 3 While the regime, like its many authoritarian counterparts in inter-war Europe, made use of such means as the public education system, cultural associations and the pageantry of mass rallies and ceremonies for this purpose, the nationalizing project launched in the earliest months of the Spanish dictatorship was perhaps best embodied by the curious and ill-fated figure of the Delegado Gubernativo [Government Delegate].

Appointed by decree in October 1923, a little over one month after Primo’s coup d’état against the Liberal government of Manuel García-Prieto, these military functionaries were charged with assisting the army officers that Primo installed as Governors in each of Spain’s forty-nine provinces in the task of inspecting and reforming municipal and provincial government, a notorious site of political corruption at this time ( Gaceta de Madrid, ←148 | 149→ 21 October 1923). As the next section will outline in more detail, Primo regarded municipal reform as an important nationalist cause and, accordingly, assigned a critical role to the Delegados in this process: first, they were to root out and eliminate the patronage networks of caciques [local political bosses], the class of local notable that had dominated municipal life during the Restoration era and, in the eyes of the dictator, inhibited the spirit of citizenship in the population then, once the corrupting influence of caciquismo [domination by caciques] had been stamped out, the Delegados were to set about catalysing the emergence of the regime’s new, prototypical Spanish citizen through cultural and propagandistic means. This would require them to serve in a tutelary role to the population and curate ambitious programmes of patriotic ceremonies and events, while also promoting participation in healthy, civic-minded organizations such as gymnastics clubs, scout troops and the regime’s two key institutions, the Somatén Nacional [National Somatén], its militia, and Unión Patriótica [Patriotic Union], the single party. 4

The Delegados, as figures that came to exert a considerable influence on municipal politics in the earliest months of the dictatorship, served as a public face for the new administration and featured prominently in the everyday lives of local residents. Their near ubiquity for this short period of time is reflected in the many letters sent by ordinary Spaniards to the government on the topic of reform, one of the few channels of public expression to be tolerated openly by an otherwise highly repressive regime. This chapter examines the Delegados’ inspectorial work during the first eighteen months of the dictatorship and situates it in the wider context of the regime’s nationalizing programme in an exploration of a series of correspondences between the population and the authorities from this time. 5 It argues that while public enthusiasm for the Delegados was initially high, their efforts soon proved damaging to the image of the regime ←149 | 150→ indeed, as the letters clearly reveal, these officers knew very little about the nation they were supposed to be exalting, a fact that profoundly undermined Primo’s belief that the army could lead the national regeneration which he proposed.

Such an approach sits well with recent developments in the historiography of contemporary Spain. Although previously neglected as a topic of inquiry, a burgeoning literature on the nationalization process in Spain has emerged in the last decade. 6 Earlier trends in the field had tended to emphasize what scholars perceived as a failure by the State to impose a cohesive national identity on the population, along with the resulting tension between the patria [homeland], that is, the nation or national community on a grand scale, and the patria chica [small homeland], the more localized realm of everyday existence. 7 However, as argued by scholars outside Spain beginning in the 1990s, national identification should, in fact, be considered something ‘grounded in everydayness and mundane experience’ (Eley and Grigor Suny 1996: 22). More recent Spanish scholarship has assimilated this broad view into a new generation of studies that suggest that national and locally oriented identities were not necessarily dichotomous and could co-exist quite successfully. Moreover, an expanding body of research has argued that regional identification could serve as a nationalizing channel and that individuals could move between these overlapping identities quite fluidly as it suited them. Indeed, by the time of the dictatorship, the boundaries of the patria chica had expanded somewhat to incorporate one’s province, as well as one’s village or town. 8

The influence of the new ‘history from below’ on the study of Spanish nationalism is quite apparent in these developments. This movement has its origins in the work of Lucien Fevre and the French Annales School and ←150 | 151→ in the celebrated studies in English by E.P. Thompson (Beyen and Van Ginderachter 2012: 4). In the 1970s and 1980s the German Alltagsgeschichte [history of everyday life] built upon this considerably and began to apply similar methodologies to the study of dictatorship, particularly the Nazi regime. The Alltag historians’ work was rather idealistic, however, and rejected the notion that power relations have an ‘unequivocal disciplining effect’ on individuals, highlighting instead the means through which ordinary people resisted the discourses of power that surrounded them. The result of this was that, for all its promise, the Alltag trend tended to marginalize national history or avoid it altogether (Berger 2005: 659). In contrast to this, the history written after the cultural and linguistic turns in the humanities has wholeheartedly embraced both the nation and the idea that it is a discursively constructed entity. However, as Marnix Beyen and Maarten Van Ginderachter (2012) have written, while such scholarship mostly rejected that this cultural constructivism was entirely elite-driven, it tended to ‘critically [engage] its modernist aspects rather than the popular impact of nationalizing policies in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries’. This has left significant gaps in the study of nationalism in Spain and elsewhere. As Beyen and Van Ginderachter (2012: 10) argue further, inquiry into the role played by low- and middle-ranking State functionaries like the Delegados in executing the nationalizing policies devised by political and administrative elites is an essential but largely unexplored element of the history of nationalism.

Insofar as Beyen’s and Van Ginderachter’s observations apply to this chapter, while we may debate the degree of creative input which each Delegado had into these policies, it is clear that these functionaries operated at an intermediate level between the military government’s extremely narrow executive in Madrid and the people of towns and villages of Spain. The letters written by ordinary people about their daily interactions with the Delegados, therefore, offer us a privileged insight into the mechanics of this nationalizing process from the bottom up. The experiences which they narrate show us how personal, local and national identities overlapped, informed and competed with one another at this time. In this way, an examination of the work of the Delegados can help us to reconcile the history-from-below approach to nationalism ←151 | 152→ with the modernist, top-down and typically State-centric perspectives of historians of nationalization processes, like Eugen Weber (1976) and George Mosse (1974/2001), and apply them fruitfully to the Primo de Rivera dictatorship.

Municipal Reform as a Nationalist Cause

There existed a long precedent to Primo de Rivera’s thinking on the need for municipal reform in Spain. Acerbic critiques of the local government structures there became a trope of the fin-de-siècle regenerationist writing that entered the popular imaginary after the nation’s traumatic capitulation to the United States of America in the Spanish–American War of 1898. 9 Writers like Miguel de Unamuno, Joaquín Costa and Ángel Ganivet espoused the centrality of Castile and its culture to the Spanish nation, while identifying the municipality as the point of departure for national regeneration (Quiroga 2007). 10 Caciquismo , the clientelist and often corrupt practices associated with caciques, was, as one historian has written, presented as ‘the key to explaining the backwardness of Spain and the overriding obstacle to the urgent modernization of the country’ (Moreno Luzón 2007b: 419). 11 Caciques themselves were important middle-men in the fraudulent elections behind the Turno Pacífico . In exchange for obtaining the votes required to produce contrived parliamentary majorities, caciques received preferential access, favours and shares of State resources from the government of the day, which they, in turn, distributed to their own clients as largesse. The result of this was, as Primo and others saw it, a political system which tended to favour local interests at the expense of collective and ←152 | 153→ national ones. 12 However, while the Turno initially proved both stable and flexible enough to incorporate most dissenting voices into its fold, an increasing sense of fin-de-siècle cultural pessimism and Spain’s defeat in 1898 combined to attract a new scrutiny to the institutions of the Restoration State. Patronage and rule by notables was by no means a uniquely Spanish phenomenon, as scholars of Italy, France, Britain and, further afield, America, will attest, yet it was seized upon by cultural critics and reform-inclined politicians as an indication of Spain’s national decadence. 13 As José Álvarez Junco (1996: 76–80) has argued, caciquismo, therefore, came to be denounced in nationalist terms by modernizing elites who wished to see State resources distributed in a manner more favourable to the aggrandizement of Spain.

The period 1907–12 saw major efforts by both leading political parties, the Conservatives and the Liberals, to carry out municipal reform. The first, which came about during the so-called gobierno largo [long government] of Conservative leader Antonio Maura, from 1907 to 1909, was an attempt to realize a revolución desde arriba [revolution from above] that would pre-empt any violent one from below by drawing las masas neutrales [the neutral masses] of the Spanish population into political life. A new electoral law introduced by Maura during this drive for reform ushered in obligatory (but not secret) voting and removed the task of supervising the electoral register from municipal governments, thus depriving caciques of two of the principal tools they used for vote management. 14 A second law, ←153 | 154→ aimed at directly reforming the local administration, sought to give greater independence to municipal governments and to introduce a corporative system of voting to local elections. The project, however, faced significant resistance across both major political parties and had not yet been completed when the government collapsed in the aftermath of the Tragic Week in 1909. Maura’s personal intransigence meant that he would remain out of government until 1918, although his thinking would influence Primo in the 1920s. 15 In 1911, the Liberal Prime Minister José Canalejas, who led an anti-clerical ministry from 1910 until his assassination by an anarchist gunman in 1912, reformed the manner in which personal tax contributions were calculated by the cacique-controlled local governments of Spain, thus achieving a long-standing goal held by progressive parliamentarians (Moreno Luzón 1996: 174). However, his attempt to democratize compulsory military service – potentially a key channel for mass nationalization, though in reality a notorious hotbed of corruption – was only a limited success as it retained partial monetary exemptions for those who could afford them (Balfour 1997: 206–9). The escalation of Spain’s military campaigns in Morocco, followed by the outbreak of the First World War and the prolonged crisis it engendered, largely halted further efforts at reform until the advent of the dictatorship in 1923. 16

As this was occurring, a distinct military-regenerationist discourse emerged within the Spanish officer corps, which had come to view itself as the only institution capable of leading reform of the political system. 17 Primo de Rivera was steeped in this culture as a junior and middle-ranking officer, and shared many of its sentiments, as he explained in the prologue of a textbook on military education published some years before his seizure of power (Primo de Rivera 1916: xi–xv). On the third anniversary of the ←154 | 155→ dictatorship, he summarized the vision that drove his efforts to regenerate Spain: ‘Célula principal de la nación ha de ser el Municipio,’ [The main cell of the nation must be the municipality] he stated in the typical biological metaphor of the regenerationists, ‘y de él, la familia, con sus rancias virtudes y su moderno concepto ciudadano. Núcleo la provincia, y vértebra principal que dirija y riegue todo el sistema, el Estado’ [and of this the family, with its traditional virtues and its modern civic ideas. The nucleus will be the province, and the State will be the main vertebra, which directs and regulates the whole system] (Primo de Rivera 1930: 99). On this basis, caciquismo, the corruptor of municipal life, was presented by the regime as one of the chief ills of the Spanish nation, the eradication of which was to be one of the dictator’s priorities and considered foundational to establishing a new national, as opposed to local, identity.

It was in this light that Primo followed his coup d’état in 1923 with a series of purges aimed at both the political class in Madrid and the municipal administrations in the towns and villages of the country. Article Four of the decree which established the Military Directorate on 15 September 1923 suppressed the Council of Ministers and all posts of Minister of the Crown, except for Primo’s own. The following day the combined Cortes (the Congress of Deputies and the Senate) were dissolved and a number of constitutional guarantees suspended nationwide. The same decree dismissed the Civil Governors (roughly equivalent to France’s Préfets ) of Spain’s 49 provinces and replaced them with their equivalents from the military hierarchy, the Military Governors (Romero-Maura 1977: 54). On 30 September, Primo proceeded to dissolve the nation’s 9,254 Ayuntamientos [municipal councils] en masse and summarily dismissed their councillors, mayors and secretaries in what was the most far-reaching purge of all. The same law provided that the deposed councillors should be replaced in the first instance by each Ayuntamiento’s cohort of Vocales asociados [Associate Members], a secondary group of representatives who had a more limited role in local affairs and were elected on a corporate basis. 18 The immediate task of these Vocales asociados was to select a new mayor for their municipality from ←155 | 156→ amongst their members. 19 Some three and a half months after the dissolution of the Ayuntamientos, Primo de Rivera also dismissed the nation’s Diputaciones [provincial assemblies], although the extent of reform at this level was much more limited than in municipal government ( Gaceta de Madrid , 13 January 1924).

On 9 October, the newly appointed Military-Civil Governors received orders from Madrid to begin a general inspection of the Ayuntamientos in each province with the expressed aim of purging any public administrators they suspected of caciquismo (González Calbet 1987: 221). There was considerable public anticipation of the inspections which Primo promised but by the end of 1923 only 815 had been carried out, a figure that represented less than 10 per cent of the Ayuntamientos in Spain. 20 Public frustration at the pace of reform often translated into a fear of being forgotten by the regime, a theme that recurred in many of the letters sent to the government. As one resident of the village of Potes (Santander) complained in December 1923, ‘Aquí en este rincón apenas hemos sentido la influencia benéfica del Directorio. No ha habido inspección en ningún ayuntamiento, aunque algunos bien lo necesitan, y se dice que ni la habrá’ [Here in these parts we have barely felt the beneficial influence of the Directorate. There has not been an inspection in any of the Ayuntamientos, even though some really need it, and they are saying that neither will there be]. He wondered what the effect of this would be on the morale of the population, before concluding rather forlornly that there was ‘un poquito de desconfianza, de que aquí todo quedara igual’ [a little bit of suspicion, that everything will remain the same here]. 21

The reach of government inspections may have been limited at this time but the regime had at its disposal another important tool in its efforts to reform local government in the manner it envisaged. In his initial manifesto ←156 | 157→ to the Spanish people, ‘Al País y al Ejército’ [To the Country and the Army], Primo de Rivera encouraged a wave of popular denunciation against caciques and corrupt officials by promising to punish ‘implacablemente a los que delinquieron contra la Patria’ [relentlessly those who have committed crimes against the Patria ], while guaranteeing ‘la más absoluta reserva para los denunciantes’ [the most absolute discretion to accusers] (Primo de Rivera 1929: 22). The population responded enthusiastically to the invitation, delivering large numbers of accusations to the government by mail over the first four months of the dictatorship. Alarmingly, however, these letters soon began to denounce the corruption present in the new municipal councils that had just been installed by the military government in the same language that they used to condemn the caciques who had controlled the municipal councils of old. This convinced Primo de Rivera of the need for significant modifications to the new councils although, in the absence of a popular movement from which to draw loyal cadres, he was forced to turn to the military to provide a temporary solution, creating the post of Delegado Gubernativo on 20 October 1923.

The dictator envisaged the Delegados’ work as both a continuation of the inspections that were being carried out in the Ayuntamientos and a means of laying the social and political foundations of the future local administration upon which a regenerated sense of nationhood would be built. In the preamble to the decree which created the role, Primo stated that these figures were to give Spanish villages ‘la sensación de una nueva vida, impulsándolos y ayudándolos a emprenderla’ [the feeling of a new life, to drive them on and help them to set out on it] ( Gaceta de Madrid, 21 October 1923). As the immediate delegates of the Madrid-controlled Military-Civil Governors in each province, the Delegados were each assigned to a provincial district or capital and given near limitless powers to intervene in municipal politics, making them the final piece in the full, though temporary, militarization of the public administration in Spain. Despite the faith Primo placed in them to rescue the nation from the grip of the caciques, however, he maintained a tight grip over the Delegados and controlled them in a short and vertical chain of command that led from each officer to their provincial Governor and on to the regime’s de facto number-two, General Severiano Martínez Anido, the Subsecretary of the ←157 | 158→ Ministry of the Interior. 22 After a series of delays which led to the original decree being referred to in the press mockingly as ‘el decreto fantasma’ [the ghost decree], 523 Delegados were finally appointed in December 1923, of whom 434 served in judicial districts (provincial subdivisions) and eighty-nine at provincial level. With these provisions at last in place, a new sense of nationhood, of Patria as envisioned by Primo de Rivera, might have been thought to be set on the road to success.

The Perils of the Patria Chica

Instructions describing in detail the mission of the Delegados as inspectors were issued by General Martínez Anido on 7 December 1923. They were as far-reaching as the plans for a new social identity were ambitious: upon their arrival in each town and village, they were to seize control of the municipal coffers and scrutinize the account books for evidence of financial malpractice. The Delegados were also to strive to improve the health and wellbeing of the village residents by discouraging unproductive pastimes like drinking and gambling, the latter of which was banned outright, and by carrying out inspections of the local market, abattoir, hospital and other public utilities to ensure they met official standards. This applied equally to schools, where the Delegados were to report on the quality of the teachers’ work and speak to the children of the importance of the Army and of national symbols like the flag. The children were also to be encouraged to take part in gymnastics, rhythmic marching and weight-lifting in order to improve their fitness in preparation for conscription or for motherhood. 23 Parents, meanwhile, ←158 | 159→ were to be instructed on the duties of citizenship and, most importantly, the need to carry out compulsory military service. The Delegados, for their part, were ordered to endeavour to learn about local customs and traditions, and to attend the fiestas [local festivities] of each village in order to gain insight into their new surroundings. All of this would make the Delegado, as Martínez Anido stated with characteristic equanimity, ‘un misionero de la Patria, de la moralidad y de la cultura’ [a missionary of the Patria, morality and culture] who would be responsible for encouraging ‘el valor ciudadano para no consentir caciques’ [civic courage to not allow caciques]. 24

On 1 January 1924, Martínez Anido issued new instructions to the Delegados, which committed them to a further round of purges at municipal level, this time targeted at the temporary town councils formed by the regime after the mass dissolution of Ayuntamientos on 30 September 1923. 25 This required the Delegados to replace deficient local administrations with ‘personas de alto prestigio social, de solvencia acreditada y a ser posible con título profesional’ [people of high social prestige, of accredited solvency and, if possible, those in possession of professional titles]. In the absence of candidates with any of these qualities, the rather vague category of adult ratepayers would suffice. Those that were thought to have been too close to the previous regime, or had been councillors before, were also to be excluded from the new administrations, although in reality none of this proved to be a major obstacle to the caciques of old, who continued to meddle in municipal politics across Spain throughout the dictatorship. That such seemingly arbitrary criteria were still used to determine a candidate’s suitability for the role of councillor or mayor is a clear indication of the regime’s ideological poverty at this time. In truth, Primo de Rivera struggled to match his populist-nationalist iconoclasm with viable new ideas. Moreover, it highlights the difficulty that the regime faced in ←159 | 160→ truly eradicating caciquismo, which, by its very nature, was a shifting, ill-defined concept.

The regime’s futile eradication efforts were nevertheless spoken of in official discourse as a task on a historic scale. Yet, as the Delegados set about their work in exalting the Spanish Patria as the primary focus of the population’s loyalty, their own attention was directed principally at the patria chica and the myriad of localisms that it contained. Their actions in wresting control of towns and villages from the grip of the caciques, therefore, were guided by the knowledge which they gathered of these often unfamiliar surroundings through their inspections of municipal accounts, the interviews they organized with local people and the denunciations they received from the population. The assessment of what was often mundane information about local goings-on through the short channels that led from the Delegados to Primo de Rivera in Madrid formed an essential part of this enormous bureaucratic undertaking.

The nature of this work of effectively reforming the national consciousness meant that the Delegados found themselves thrust deeply into the everyday life of the towns and villages under their supervision. The denunciations, petitions and complaints which they received from a population eager to have its voice heard by the government meant that they were frequently required to mediate in disputes amongst local residents, some of whom sought to take advantage of the repressive atmosphere of the dictatorship to settle old scores with neighbours and rivals. Undeterred, however, by growing misgivings within the administration about the viability of verifying the accusations made to them via denunciation, Primo ordered the Delegados to publish edicts in the villages under their inspection inviting the local population to highlight deficiencies and identify corruption in the municipal administration. 26 While this was to prove useful to the Delegados in the first instance, what made for a reformed national consciousness in the popular mind, as opposed to the official one, was soon to become evident from the enthusiasm the population showed in denouncing all types of transgressors, many of whom were completely innocent. Captain Enrique Tomás Luque, a Delegado who wrote a memoir ←160 | 161→ of his experience, described in vivid terms how residents varied wildly in their interpretations of what constituted legitimate cause for grievance:

Hay quejas que parecen fundamentadas, sobre todo las que se refieren a deudas con los Ayuntamientos en las de índole personal, se advierte en seguida, por el modo de expresarse, la envidia o el odio que las alienta, reflejo de la mísera contextura moral e intelectual de los denunciantes.

[There are complaints which seem to be substantiated, especially those that refer to debts with the Ayuntamientos for those of a personal nature, one can immediately observe, by the manner in which they are expressed, the envy or hate that motivates them, a reflection of the wretched moral and intellectual context of the complainants.] (Tomás Luque 1928: 47–8)

Many other Delegados seemed to share Tomás Luque’s metropolitan disdain for his rural countrymen. 27 A homogeneous national community was still a very distant goal.

Most Delegados, nevertheless, approached the task of rooting out the supposed enemies of Spain with considerable zeal. In December 1923, the month they began their work, the Delegados summarily arrested and jailed dozens of public administrators and supposed caciques, although this was frequently on a dubious legal footing which forced the prisoners’ eventual release. This prompted General Martínez Anido to issue new instructions on 1 January 1924, in which he emphasized the need for moderation in order to maintain the good public image of the regime. 28 The numerous reminders which Anido sent in the months and years after this, however, reveal that few Delegados followed his orders (Quiroga 2007: 94). It is clear that the popular mind was not alone in holding its own interpretation of national reform.

In marked contrast to the heavy-handed approach of some Delegados, there are numerous reports of cases in which they were accused of ←161 | 162→ collaboration with caciques and other representatives of the so-called old politics. Alonso J., a resident of Ayora (Valencia), gave a damning assessment of the local Delegado’s work in a letter to Primo in January 1924. While expressing his approval at the regime’s efforts to stamp out ‘el caciquismo asqueroso, feudal y cesarista’ [disgusting, feudal and caesarist caciquismo], the letter-writer complained bitterly that the Delegado’s reforms had left the town subject to the whims of a mayor who was ‘sumamente político’ [extremely political] and to ‘una administración bastante peor de la de antes de existir el actual régimen’ [an administration considerably worse than the one before the current regime existed]. 29

The residents of La Codosera (Extremadura) expressed similar reservations in a collective letter sent to Primo de Rivera in 1924. Like so many of those who wrote to the government during the dictatorship, they began their letter with a disavowal of politics and an appeal to the more universal values of the nation. Many of them, they outlined, had once belonged to the Maurista wing of the Conservative party but had abandoned this affiliation in the aftermath of Primo’s coup . 30 In reality, however, their lingering rivalries and resentments spilled over into their complaint, which they framed in overtly political terms. The Delegado assigned to the district of Albuquerque had, in their eyes, been favouring former supporters of what they called ‘la desastrosa concentración liberal’ [the disastrous liberal concentration] of their former rivals in the municipal administration. 31 Proof of this lay in the twin facts that at least two village mayors in the district had once been members of that party and that the local Unión Patriótica branch, although formed only recently, was also dominated by its members. The Delegado, they believed, was surely behind this because he tended to go on long walks and even for ←162 | 163→ dancing sessions with his favourites, who all happened to be Liberals. If this special treatment was not enough, he was ‘altanero y despectivo con los demás que han profesado otras ideas’ [arrogant and derogatory to those who have expressed other ideas]. 32 Under the suspicious gaze of the local population such gestures could be, and very often were, interpreted as signs of favouritism regardless of whether this was truly the case or not. The villagers insisted that they were telling this to Primo not because they longed for power themselves, but because ‘somos españoles y queremos gozar del mismo beneficio que la inmensa mayoría del resto de España’ [we are Spaniards and we want to enjoy the same benefits as the immense majority of the rest of Spain]. But again we see that this ostensible longing for equality of opportunity masked a one-sided interpretation of reform: while they invoked the high ideal of the nation as their motivation in denouncing the corruption of the Delegado, they dispelled all claims to universality by asking Primo to send them ‘un señor Delegado que sea completamente neutral y aplaste toda política, principalmente la odiosa concentración liberal’ [a señor Delegado that is completely neutral and will quash all politics, principally the odious liberal concentration]. 33 In this case, the nation clearly served as a mask for the particularisms that lingered on from the pre-dictatorship political landscape.

Those caciques who did not regard the advent of the dictatorship as an opportunity to reach a new accommodation with the authorities were invariably hostile towards the Delegados. Indeed, some would go to great lengths to discredit them, even by denunciation, and not only on political grounds: a letter written by José María C. of Granada to Primo at the end of January 1924 documents one such situation vividly. 34 Identifying himself ostensibly as a concerned citizen and journalist who had vehemently ←163 | 164→ defended the new regime in the press, the letter-writer complained that an unnamed Delegado in the province of Almería was failing to improve life in the local villages. Primo’s bureau referred the complaint to the provincial government of Almería but the Governor expressed doubts about the identity of the letter-writer. A lengthy investigation carried out by a senior officer later revealed that the complaint had been made falsely by the former secretary of the village of Beninar in revenge at the Delegado’s discovery of multiple cases of forgery in the municipal records. In his report to the Governor, the officer who investigated the case complained that ‘sería una lástima no poder meter en la cárcel a tanto sin vergüenza que anda por ahí tratando de desprestigiar la actual situación’ [it would be a pity not to be able to imprison a wretch like this, who goes about trying to discredit the present situation], adding that he had managed to have a former councillor jailed for fifteen days elsewhere for speaking ill of the Military Directorate. While the file gives no indication of the letter-writer’s eventual fate, the vengeful hoax consumed considerable resources and contributed to a sense of alienation between the military and the population. 35

It is clear from many of our examples that Primo’s vision of a renewed national identity was not easily to be achieved by the means adopted at the level of local caciques, with attempts at changing the attitudes and leanings of the people, hitherto informed by the liberal regime he sought to oust, all too often thwarted by the very officers appointed to implement the reforms. Although the Delegados belonged to the military and were largely trusted by Primo on this basis, their inspection work was to be targeted exclusively at the civilian elements of the State administration. As such, they sat at an often nebulous intersection between the military and civilian spheres, leading to frequent cases in which the Delegados were seen to undermine the military hierarchy. 36 In one such case from February ←164 | 165→ 1924, the Military-Civil Governor of Granada complained to Martínez Anido that the Delegado assigned to the town of Baza, Major Fernando Claudín, had caused feelings of ‘por lo menos intranquilidad y desasosiego’ [at the very least disquiet and unease] during his visit to two local villages. Subsequently, when the Governor had asked him to report on the political situation there, Claudín, taking something of a free hand, included a number of accusations ‘en forma sumamente incorrecta’ [in a highly incorrect manner] against fellow officers in his own garrison, including the provincial Chief of Staff, members of the Guardia Civil, the secretary of the provincial government and the Governor himself. However, that the army, like the other institutions of the Spanish State, could harbour corrupt officials was something that the regime was unwilling to consider. The Governor, therefore, felt that he had no choice but to request Claudín’s dismissal for insubordination, something which Primo rubber-stamped in early February. 37 This kind of in-fighting between those appointed to clear away the patronage system of caciquismo did not bode well for the dictator’s regenerated Patria. Nor was it the only source of concern for the regime: not all the Delegados were skilled in the politics of the regions to which they were assigned, nor were they capable manipulators of the situations they found within them.

The Governor of Guipúzcoa, likewise, wrote to Primo de Rivera in September 1924 to complain about the conduct of the Delegado assigned to the district of Azpeitia. 38 The town in question, he noted, was well known for its support of the political right and, as such, on the advent of the regime, ‘se mostró ardiente y decidido partidario de su tendencia depuradora’ [showed itself to be passionate and resolute in its support of its inclination towards purging]. The Delegado, though, had altered this favourable situation so profoundly that ‘hoy el distrito en masa es hostil a nuestra representación y mira con recelo y desconfianza cuanto al Directorio se refiere’ [today, the district as a whole is hostile to our representatives and regards anything to do with the Directorate with mistrust and suspicion]. The Governor reported that the Delegado had repeatedly flouted his instructions in order to wage a ←165 | 166→ personal war against the integrista [integrist traditionalist] party, which was then the main political group there and had deep roots in the local community. The Delegado’s decision to do so revealed a clear lack of understanding of the politics of the region. The dispute started in the first of the inspections which he carried out in the surrounding villages, during which he began ‘sembrando el terror y dirigiendo amenazas’ [sowing terror and directing threats] at the local population, much to the detriment of the regime. The Governor thought it unsurprising, therefore, ‘que la animosidad, que en un principio se concretaba en su persona, se haya extendido al Directorio’ [that the hostility, which was at first fixed on his person, has spread to the Directorate]. This public animosity towards the government was encouraged by the Delegado’s bizarre and often violent behaviour, exemplified by one incident in which he gathered together the mayor of Azpeitia and various other local dignitaries in the town hall to burn a Basque flag in front of them, which he then ordered be torn into rags to be used to clean the building. 39 This Delegado was also dismissed for these excesses.

The overzealousness of these Delegados, like those who continued to imprison public administrators with impunity, highlighted the unwieldy aspects of the arrangement. While the archives contain many glowing reports written by happy mayors and town councillors about the services provided to their municipalities by the Delegados, many other letters showed their work to be seriously damaging to the regime. 40 These range from cases of officers resigning in frustration at the ill-defined nature of their work, to others who were convicted of crimes while in the role. 41 Many ultimately seemed unable to meet the exalted character standards of the new national citizen which Primo envisaged.

On a more symbolic level, at the head of the national community, the military nationalism that became so influential in the Restoration period in Spain, and, ultimately, established the cultural foundations for the dictatorship, typically equated the Spanish State with the nation, in ←166 | 167→ place of the people. The army, as the armed wing of the State and one of its foremost institutions, therefore, was central to this vision. It is unsurprising then that by the time of the coup d’état of September 1923, Primo de Rivera, like a number of other prominent generals, was a popular figure in Spain, having served notably as Captain General both of Valencia and of Catalonia in the volatile post-war period. The regime’s efforts to legitimize the continuation of the dictatorship into the medium-to-long term saw it attempt to build upon this popularity through the charismatic construction of the dictator and his persona in mass propaganda. This has been shown by Alejandro Quiroga to be a process that was characterized by heavy doses of paternalism and references to divine Providence. 42 The letters that were sent to Primo during this time reflected this carefully cultivated image in the way that they frequently represented him as a benevolent father to the nation, very often in the absence of any significant references to the King, Alfonso XIII. In the case of those letters that referred directly to the Delegados, their authors frequently made use of the traditional peasant letter-writing schema which pitted the good leader of the people against ruthless State bureaucrats who abused their power. 43 This was a tension that ultimately served to challenge not only the seamless integration of Nation–State–Army which the regime promoted in its official discourse but also the new ideals of citizenship which that integration rested upon.

The residents of the district of Cúllar and Baza (Granada) wrote an exemplar letter of this type to Primo in April 1924 to denounce the actions of their interim Delegado, Major Juan Luque Fuentes. Shortly after his arrival in the district, Luque, who was a replacement for the popular Delegado Fernando Claudín (the same Delegado mentioned earlier in this chapter), had unilaterally decided to dismiss several members of the town council, which had been elected unanimously earlier in the month. In solidarity with their dismissed colleagues, however, the remaining councillors had resigned in protest shortly afterwards. The writers of the letter wondered if Claudín, ←167 | 168→ the original Delegado, knew about this, for they feared that ‘en este asunto mangonea un elemento del antiguo régimen caciquil de Baza’ [an element of the old caciquil regime in Baza is meddling in this matter]. In a typical concluding appeal, they asked Primo to intervene against Luque, who was surely acting without his knowledge, and to restore the previous council, stating that ‘es lástima que ocurra esto a espaldas de VE que es la garantía de la Ley, y más que todo es VE la garantía de la tranquilidad de España’ [it is a shame that this is occurring behind the back of Your Excellency, who is the guarantor of the Law, and, more than anything, Your Excellency is the guarantor of Spain’s peace]. 44 Many other letters sent to Primo de Rivera at this time framed their contents as acts of informing the dictator in the most literal, factual sense, without making any explicit requests, in the hope that his natural benevolence would inspire him to take action in their defence. On this basis it is clear that while the Delegados were styled as the servants and saviours of the nation by the regime, in the eyes of many ordinary people at this time, Primo remained its ultimate guarantor. 45 But neither the official promotion of the Delegados’ role, nor the image of their leader as prototype was to prove sufficient to create the new citizen.

The Municipal Statute and the Decline of the Delegados

As these few samples of the widespread correspondence have indicated, it was becoming clear to Primo that no short-term solutions to reforming ←168 | 169→ civic attitudes were likely to succeed and that if his changes were to have any lasting effect on perceptions of nationhood, it would be necessary to rethink the overall strategy. The months of March and April 1924 marked the first major change of course over the lifetime of the dictatorship, between a destructive phase that was characterized by the regime’s efforts to purge the State administration of corruption and the beginnings of a medium- to long-term reconstruction. By this point, the first ninety days of military rule, which King Alfonso XIII had initially handed Primo de Rivera in September 1923, had long since elapsed and, consequently, the general began to take steps to stabilize and perpetuate his regime beyond the quirúrgica [surgical] intervention that he had first proposed in his manifesto. With the approval of the King, Primo set about institutionalizing the dictatorship by carrying out a far-reaching legislative reform to local government, adopting a single party, Unión Patriótica, and commencing the progressive recivilianization of half of the provincial Governorships. 46

The regime’s definitive reform to local government was implemented through a new Municipal Statute, a landmark piece of legislation that was overseen by the young Maurista lawyer, José Calvo Sotelo, whom the dictator appointed to a senior role in the Ministry of the Interior as Director General of the Administration and, subsequently, Minister for Finance. In a bid to end the electoral manipulation that had characterized the earlier Restoration era, the Statute firmly established the municipality as the basic administrative unit of the Spanish State and limited the scope for direct government interference in this realm. 47 It was evident that only by some such concessions to local diversity would the grander aims of revitalized national homogeneity be achievable.

New instructions issued to the Delegados by the government at the end of March 1924 to coincide with the implementation of the Statute bound them to respect municipal autonomy and restricted their freedom to intervene in municipal affairs without the prior authorization of the corresponding provincial Governor ( Gaceta de Madrid, 21 October 1923). The move was timely, as by now the Delegados were becoming unpopular figures, both among the population, as the petitions examined earlier in this chapter show, and within the administration itself. In the months following the introduction of the Municipal Statute, Martínez Anido was moved to write to the provincial Governors to complain that some Delegados were still involved in the smallest details of municipal life, contrary to their new instructions. Within the army, the future organizer of the July 1936 coup d’état , General Emilio Mola, stated his belief that the work of the Delegados was ‘no pocas veces desafortunada y hasta inmoral […] y siempre antipática al elemento civil’ [frequently misguided and even immoral […] and always unpleasant for civilian elements], and had served only to create public animosity towards the Armed Forces in Spain (Mola 1940: 1028 cited in Quiroga 2004: 259). Similar criticisms were also made by the senior generals Pardo González and García Benítez. 48 José Calvo Sotelo, for his part, worried that the Delegados were undermining the authority of the restored Civil Governors and contributing to states of ‘incertidumbre, despego o desasosiego’ [doubt, disregard or unease] across government. In October 1924, around the anniversary of the creation of the Delegados, in a move that anticipated the creation by Primo of a largely civilian cabinet (the Civil Directorate) in December 1925, he wrote to the general to suggest that it would be prudent to abolish the role altogether, thereby loosening the erstwhile militarization of the State administration (Calvo Sotelo 1931/1974: 27–9). Although Primo hesitated at doing so entirely, between late 1924 and the end of 1927 he would go on to reduce progressively the number of Delegados from a peak of 523 to just seventy-nine, all of whom were reassigned to administrative roles in provincial capitals. 49

When Primo de Rivera created the Delegados Gubernativos in October 1923, he was still entertaining the idea of relinquishing power in the short to medium term, even if he had no intention of doing so within ninety days of his coup d’état as he initially suggested. At a point marked by ideological poverty, during which caciquismo was presented by the regime as one of the overriding threats to the Spanish nation, the Delegados were introduced to the population as the tools with which the regeneration of Spain would finally be achieved. Very rapidly, however, their relationship with the population soured due both to their lack of preparation and to the impossibility of their task in fully eradicating caciquismo. At the root of the mission which Primo originally assigned to the Delegados was his messianic belief that civil society could be awoken and reformed by the State alone. However, as this chapter has shown, the regime encountered a population that was much less malleable and open to its top-down nationalizing efforts than it had expected. Any incorporation of the masses into national life would be a multi-layered process, in which the eradication of caciquismo would merely represent a single step. As Enrique Tomás y Luque, the memoir-writing Delegado, concluded in his own assessment of their work, the task was far more complex than Primo de Rivera could have foreseen in September 1923, for, ‘[e]l convertir los hombres de hoy en ciudadanos, cuando tan lejos de esto estaban, es labor muy lenta, de varias generaciones, aun siguiendo la obra regeneradora, tan intensa y enérgicamente iniciada’ [Turning the men of today into citizens, when they were so far removed from this, is slow work, over several generations, even if we continue the work of regeneration that we have started so intensely and energetically] (Tomás Luque 1928: 246). Indeed, the question that dominated Spanish politics for much of what remained of the twentieth century was whether the State would base itself on civic-republican ideals that emphasized active participation in political life, or whether that State would attempt to bend its citizenry to its image and, ultimately, its will from above. The experience of the Delegados rapidly put paid to the notion that the military could achieve the latter on its own.

With hindsight, and assuming that a bankrupt State had not put a decisive end to his reforms upon the regime’s collapse, one can only speculate whether Primo’s vision of a new unified citizenry was ever really achievable, with or without military government. As the events leading up to the brutal civil war – and the present calls for independence – give sufficient evidence, his efforts to create a homogeneous sense of nationhood were, at the very least, premature.

The Fall of Primo De Rivera and its Consequences

Throughout the World of Labor, The Militant, Vol. III No. 9, 1 March 1930, p.م.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The fall of Primo de Rivera surprised almost no one. It surprised only Primo de Rivera himself . and the leading Spanish Communists. The former stated, two weeks before his collapse, that he would relinquish power of his own accord in six months the latter, like an echo, were writing that Primo would be with us for a long time.

Primo did not yield up power of his own accord. Neither was he driven out by a revolutionary movement. His downfall was due to one of those secret revolts which threaten to break out not only against a government, but also against the class which maintains it. The class – the bourgeoisie, the monarchy the army – wish to ward off the immediate danger, the discontent and the growing revolution, by driving Primo out of power and promising a return to the constitutional form of government. In fact, a large-scale conspiracy was organized, which, in breaking forth could have overthrown not only the dictatorship, but even the monarchy, and which, under the existing circumstances, could have exceeded the desires and intention of the organizers themselves.

It can be said with certainty that the discontent against Primo was widespread. The proletariat showed their discontent through the powerful strikes of 1927󈞈󈞉 in Asturia, Catalogne, Seville, etc., strikes of an almost spontaneous character, let loose through economic causes, and which rapidly assumed a political character, not through the almost non-existent efforts of the official communist movement, but through the intervention of the dictatorship, on the side of the bosses, against the proletariat and through the rapid development of the latter.

(The leading Spanish Communists have deceived the International in pretending that these strikes were instigated and directed by themselves. Unfortunately this was not so.)

Bourgeoisie Desert Primo

The discontent of the petty-bourgeoisie, of the intellectuals, and of a section of the army manifested itself in the form of conspiracies, (six, up to the one which was being recently prepared) and in the student movements. Primo was already left with the support of only a section of the big financial and industrial bourgeoisie whom he had succeeded in reassuring through the establishment of national monopolies at the expense of foreign finance capital, and through extreme political protection. But he ended up by losing the support of the big bourgeoisie as well because of the fall in the value of the Peseta. The pressure of international finance was in fact one of the chief causes, a fact which can easily be explained, it having given rise to the ultra-nationalist political economy of Primo. This, however, was not the sole cause. Instead of correcting this entire political economy, financial and social, and of achieving parity, the dictator, ship believed that it could sustain the Peseta by means of simple manipulations in the world market. It obtained a credit of 18 million pounds from a group of British and American financiers, which made possible only a temporary halt in the decline of the Spanish standard. The decline proceeded in a fatalistic manner, resulting first in a defection of the Minister of Finance and finally in the collapse of the entire government.

Financial Crisis in Spain

The economic and political situation which Primo is leaving as a heritage to his successors, is extremely dangerous. If the best-known former political leaders – Cambo, the younger Maura, Sanchez Guerra, etc. – definitely refuse to aid Berenguer, it is because of the seriousness of the situation. Above all stands the financial question. In 1923, the year of Primo’s Coup-d’État, the Spanish public debt, according to the official figures themselves, was 8,531 million Pesetas, the total indebtedness of the treasury approaching 5,000 million. At the end of 1929 these figures had risen to 19,633 million pesetats (an increase of 11 [thousand] million in six years and four months of the dictatorship!)

Naturally, the political situation is also extremely serious. In 1923, Primo destroyed all the government parties. Those could no longer offer the least resistance, being discredited in the eyes of the people.

But Primo set up nothing in their place. The Patriotic Union was an artificially created party, an empty shell in the eyes of the public owing its existence solely to official support. This group, together with the Advisory Assembly and everything created by the dictatorship of Primo, were doomed to perish. The proof of this lies in the fact that the king appealed and continued to appeal to the former leaders of the traditional parties, through Berenguer, that they reorganize their parties and prepare for distorted elections, following the vicious methods of former years. All this as though nothing had happened!

Of course the Spanish proletariat did not look at things in the same light. For them the former parties were permanently discredited. They did not await, they did not desire their return – a return to the status of 1923. Not a praetorian guard, but neither the former regime, and above all not a monarchy. Primo had engineered his coup-d’état in 1923 in order to save the monarchy.

The Growing Republican Movement

It is also in order to save it that his rule has just been liquidated and that the former politicians are preparing to govern anew. Will they succeed in saving the crown? We think not. A wider and wider republican movement is taking form in Spain. The very first acts of Berenguer have been to arrest several of the republican leaders in Valencia, Barcelona, etc. The demonstrations of the students and workers against the dictatorship revolved not only around the slogan of “Down with Primo”, but “Down with the Monarchy”. The republican movement cannot but grow. The important problems left over by Primo and which cannot be solved by his successors will serve to aggravate the crisis of the monarchist regime. We are at the threshold of political struggles of the greatest interest.

But we Communists, in this situation, which, by the action of material forces assume an increasingly revolutionary character, must act with energy and facility. The anti-monarchist movement will be led in its first stages by the petty-bourgeoisie, by the republican party and by the socialists.

The Spanish proletariat, whose living conditions are extremely wretched, and whose hatred of the entire system has matured during the last few years of dictatorial oppression, are getting ready for participation in the struggle.

The Need of a Communist Party

But in face of the socialists who are preparing to maneuvre, and of the anarcho-syndicalists who will attempt to reassume the leadership of the revolutionary trade unions, what is needed now is a strong Communist Party, disciplined, supple, knowing how to lead the proletariat in the coming struggles towards its emancipation. Will the actual Communist Party attain its historic mission? This is the serious problem for the entire International. Today, once again, the leaders of the Spanish Communists, with the support of the Stalin clique which steers the Comintern, readily devote themselves to the miserable task of systematically hounding the best militant Communists. Under any circumstances this attitude would be incorrect at present it is an anti-Communist crime. We Opposition Communists will know our duty. But if the Stalinist bureaucrats attempt to hinder us, they will be responsible before the international proletariat.

4 - The Primo de Rivera years

On 13 September 1923, Miguel Primo de Rivera, the captain general of Catalonia, led a military uprising to put an end to the constitutional government he came to power with the blessing of the king, the support of the army as well as employers’ and Catholic organisations, and the indifference and apathy of most of the population. In the early stages, up to the spring of 1924, the dictator aimed to quash public disorder, the threat of regional nationalism, the affair of the ‘responsibility’ for the Morocco disaster and the blight of caciquismo , which were, in his view, the main evils affecting Spain. His was a firm hand in an iron glove.

From then on, exceptional measures implemented by decree gave way to a process of institutionalisation. If the regime wanted to survive, it had to tackle social and economic problems and embark on the mobilisation of its social support, basically the somatén and the Unión Patriótica. In the autumn of 1925, capitalising on the success of the military campaign in Morocco, the dictator began thinking of a political solution that would give his regime legitimacy and stability. Before the year was out, the Military Directorate gave way to a civilian-style government that promoted administrative reforms and legislation of a social nature that played a big part in reducing labour conflicts. The summer of 1926 saw the beginning of a plan to set up a corporate parliament, the National Assembly, which opened its doors a year later with the mission of drawing up a new constitution.

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