The Downside of Imperial Collapse
When Empires or Great Powers Fall, Chaos and War Rise
IT IS easy to ridicule the international policy of Spain by saying that at Geneva when England and France vote "Yes," Spain votes "Yes;" when England and France vote "No," Spain votes "No;" and when England says "Yes" and France "No," or vice versa, Spain refrains from voting. What is not quite so easy is to outline the possibilities of a more positive international policy for Spain. So long as Germany made her voice felt in international councils it was possible for Spain to consider another alternative, though vaguely, it is true, she being separated from Germany by the French army and the British fleet. But now, Germany being out of the way for the moment, the policy of Spain necessarily runs parallel with the policies of England and France--when the latter are in agreement. As soon as they disagree the most unpleasant dilemma confronts Spain. England, the market for her minerals and fruit and therefore her naturally ally, does not appear to desire an alliance with her; while France does not seem to have any policy towards her except to keep her weak, in order that all French strength may be concentrated upon the Rhine.
In spite of the timidity of her spokesmen and representatives, Spain's international ideals have been traced out clearly and firmly by history and the force of circumstances. They are concerned chiefly with Spanish America, Portugal and Morocco. Spain feels that she is the agent of civilization in Morocco, by reason of her eight-hundred-year war of reconquest against the Moors, her four-hundred-year possession of Melilla, Ceuta and the rocky cliffs of Velez and Alhucemas, and because of her general geographical position. Spain feels also that territorial continuity and an affinity of blood, speech and ideas draw her especially closely to Portugal. And, finally, she considers the South American republics as her children, physically and intellectually, conceived during the supreme hour of her history.
I do not say that this feeling of solidarity has found expression in any concrete political ideal. Some of us in Spain believe that history has shown the impossibility of holding close to the motherland countries of the same race, if the former is ruled by a patriarchal or patrimonial system such as still obtains with us. For that reason we dream of a fraternity of Spanish peoples in which the old patriarchal nexus of the "ascendancy" will be displaced by a feeling of common ends. But this is an idea which has not yet reached the general public. The latter feel that Cuba, Colombia and the Argentine are not foreign in the same sense as are France, Italy and England; and the same feeling exists among the Spanish-American countries toward Spain. When Señor Alvear was elected President of the Argentine Republic, he was received in Spain as a national hero, not only by the governing classes but by the populace as a whole. And Señor Alvear returned the compliment by calling Spain his "Mother Country." A year ago, when the President of the Puerto Rico Chamber of Representatives, Señor Coll y Cuchi, related to the Athenaeum Society of Madrid the story of his people's struggle to preserve the Spanish language in their schools, the audience felt tears in its eyes. Only a few days ago the Cuban delegate to the League of Nations spoke of Spain as a mother, always loved and respected.
Likewise, the sentiment of solidarity between the Spanish and Portuguese peoples has latterly found numerous opportunities of expression. The Portuguese and the Spaniards do not regard each other as foreigners. Great as is the fear of the Portuguese lest the peninsular-wide imperialism of the Philips should be reborn in Spain, this uneasiness gives way to one of solidarity at the first opportunity. Although from time to time imperialistic ideas are reborn in the minds of Spanish statesmen, they very quickly discover that the people as a whole do not share them and that nobody in Spain really wishes to see the Minister of Finance collecting taxes in Lisbon.
Equally strong is the feeling that Spain has an historic mission in Morocco. On the day when the French troops entered Fez, in 1911, the spirit of Spain was galled and the general discontent would certainly have found expression in some form had not the country's consciousness of its own weakness closed its lips.
Here we have another explanation of the timidity of Spain's international policy. The Spanish people are not only well aware of their own weakness, but think themselves much weaker than they actually are. Spain's sense of weakness is quite justified up to a certain point, and it is well that its policy should be tempered to accord with its resources. In her dealings with Spanish-America, for example, it is evident that Spain could not, even if she would, establish such close and important commercial relations as England and the United States maintain. Similarly, Spain does not possess accumulated capital in sufficient quantity to act as financier for the increasing productivity of Spanish-America. Possibly the capital she amassed during the war would have sufficed to help Portugal exploit her wealth and raise her depreciated currency. But Spain has lost a large part of her war gains speculating in marks, and so various enterprises long since projected must wait until by economy she acquires the capital to harness the waterfalls of the Douro, on the Spanish-Portuguese frontier, and form a consortium to enable both countries to exploit the cork industry.
In the case of Morocco, Spain for years had to wage a diplomatic battle with France which culminated in a treaty which had scarcely been signed when the European war broke out. According to this treaty, Spain remained in possession of five per cent of the ancient territory of Mogreb, and France of ninety-five per cent. The French zone was rich and relatively well settled, owing to its having been governed by the Sultans for centuries, while the Spanish zone, the Rif and the hinterland of Ceuta and Larache, was little more than an arid and hilly district in which half a million Kabyles led a semi-nomadic existence.
It is certain that but for our faltering diplomacy we might have made an agreement with France before the Entente Cordiale was sealed in 1904, whereby Fez and the adjoining territory would have been included in the zone of our Protectorate. At that time, however, Spain had just emerged from her colonial wars and did not wish to attack the problem of Morocco until her forces were restored. The truth is that the old Spanish dream of being the bearer of civilization in Morocco was frustrated by the Entente Cordiale, and that, at the beginning of the European war, Spain was still a little embittered by the result of the negotiations with France. This partly explains her neutrality during the Great War. It is not pleasant to have to make way for another power simply because one does not feel capable of resisting.
But the timidity of Spain's diplomacy and her neutrality in the war are explicable on more serious grounds. Mr. Bernard Shaw, despite knowing nothing whatever about Spain, said, in "Man and Superman," one of the profoundest things which has ever been said about our country: "Every idea for which Man will die will be a Catholic idea. When the Spaniard learns at last that he is no better than the Saracen, and his prophet no better than Mohamet, he will arise, more Catholic than ever, and die on a barricade across the filthy slum he starves in, for universal liberty and equality." The Spaniards are characterized by a personal and local pride which almost incapacitates them from acting rationally in the world. But from time to time a Catholic idea arises in Spain in which the pride of the individual can be satisfied and expand simultaneously, each person conscious of being a minister of the true Church. These moments of faith in their mission are also the moments of the Spaniard's historical greatness. It was Rome that first fired every Spaniard with the glory of belonging to an empire reaching from Persia to Cadiz. Then it was the Church that made the Iberian slave and the most powerful noble of the Goths equal before the throne of God. Afterwards it was Charles V who made the Spanish believe that they were fighting the battles of the Lord. It is in these moments of faith that the name of Spain is heard in the world. But when this spirit of "individual distinction by sacrifice," as the historian Martin A. S. Hume has called it, is consumed within itself, then Spaniards return to their personal and local quarrels, which are all-engrossing but insignificant from an international standpoint.
At the present time Spain is living on the ideas of 1898. On the day when a United States squadron burned and sank at Cavite the poor little wooden ships of Spain, the Spanish conscience was aroused by the glow of the flames and began asking why empires had perished. The answer at which our best minds arrived does not seem so satisfactory today as it did then; but the important point is that the questions asked were ones which Spanish intellectuals have not yet ceased to ask, as to the reason for what was then called national decadence, and as to the way to what was then, and is still, called national regeneration. The prevalent belief at the time was that Spain had been the victim of too many wars. Don Joaquin Costa said: "Double-lock the tomb of the Cid (the popular hero of the wars against the Moors) so that he may not ride again." Don Miguel de Unamuno said: "Robinson Crusoe has conquered Don Quixote." By the former he meant the practical mind, by the latter the idealist--in which comparison Robinson Crusoe stood for the United States, with its industries, machinery and wealth, while Don Quixote represented dreamy Spain, indifferent to profitable business but ready to fight for things of no concern from a practical standpoint.
Let us not go too far in identifying Crusoe with the Anglo-Saxon world, nor Don Quixote with our own. Some of us might think that the origin of Anglo-Saxon greatness lies in a spirit of puritanism which is not intrinsically practical. And so far as we in Spain are concerned, let us try with all our strength to resuscitate the Cid and Don Quixote; ideals alone make daily life tolerable.
The Spanish people during the past twenty years have made considerable progress in science, education and the exploitation of their natural resources; but they still remain persuaded that the majority of their ills are due to the numerous wars they formerly waged. Sometimes they were the victims of foreign dynastic ambitions, like those of the houses of Austria and Bourbon; at others they were carried away by generous but impossible ideals, such as that of a universal church. This feeling is the chief cause of our timidity in international politics and also of the non-success of our little Moroccan war, in which we failed, after wasting time, money and human lives, to solve a problem which would not be a problem at all for a Spain that really wanted to solve it. The entire zone of Northern Morocco, entrusted to Spanish protection under the treaties, does not cover more than some 25,000 square kilometres. It extends from the southern shore of the Straits of Gibraltar to Tangier, and has a total population of about 500,000, most of them Kabyles, who recognize no other social unit but the tribe and who usually lack all culture. Yet this Protectorate has cost Spain about ten million pesetas since operations began in 1909, and there is no sign of its being definitely pacified.
The educated classes in Spain do not feel that the civilizing mission of their country in Morocco is worth the sacrifices that war implies. The reason for this feeling is that war now requires ten men to accomplish what could formerly be done with one and ten million pesetas for what should cost only one. In this last respect the war has been really disastrous for us. Prior to 1909, when Señor Maura, then Prime Minister, began operations, each administration had inherited from its predecessors a "holy horror of deficits," thus carrying on the work of keeping down the budget which Señor Villaverde had initiated immediately after the loss of the colonies. The operations in Morocco caused a deficit, and, just as happened in the belligerent countries during the war, once the reduction of the budget was prevented by military necessity the squandering of money extended to all departments. Once the government no longer denied the war departments whatever they asked they had not the courage to refuse the demands of all the others. Thus the deficit rose from 390 million pesetas in 1909 to 538 millions in 1919-20, and at last to 1,298 millions in 1921-22. Deducting the expenses caused by the war in Morocco, the normal deficit--that is, the difference between ordinary revenue and ordinary expenses--amounts to 700 millions. The Secretary of the Treasury, Señor Bergamin, never tires of repeating that the first step towards restoring the Treasury must be made by putting an end to the war in Morocco. To that end General Burguete has been appointed Spanish High Commissioner in Morocco with a new policy of bringing the tribal chiefs on to the side of Spain with gifts. There seems, also, to be an attempt to limit the area of warfare. But it does not appear wise to buy off the tribes, for they have not been properly defeated and will rebel again as soon as the gifts cease.
Despite all this, important civilizing work is being accomplished in the Spanish zone in Morocco. Melilla is the only western town in northern Africa. Built chiefly between 1910 and 1914, it has broad, well-paved streets, schools for Spaniards and natives, parks, theatres, clubs, hospitals, a magnificent harbor, and two railways connecting it with the mines and the villages of the interior. The exploitation of the iron mines in the vicinity is the principal source of revenue to the railways. A model farm teaches the Moors how to get the best returns from the soil. I do not speak of the agricultural colonies, because the desire to get possession of Moorish land at inadequate prices was perhaps the chief cause of the tribal insurrections last year. I hope our authorities in Morocco have learnt their lesson on that score once for all.
The modest activities of Spain in Morocco have an international significance which foreigners are inclined to overlook, though specialists know it. The British Foreign Office realizes quite well the importance of the Straits of Gibraltar to world traffic. If Spain were to decide to retire from Morocco, and France wished to develop her submarine fleet, nothing would be easier than for the latter, in case of war, to close the Straits of Gibraltar absolutely, despite the presence of England at the Rock.
In this sense the world is affected by the problem which keeps Spain in Morocco. In its turn, the general situation of the world affects Spain. The world today is not buying from Spain even one-half of what it bought before the war. A few months ago Don Luis Clariaga, the economist, published the following comparative table of our principal exports:
|Millions of Pesetas|
|Copper (moulds and bars)||37.5||32.7|
For two years Spanish industry did everything it could to ward off the crisis which all the belligerent countries, one after the other, have gone through since the armistice. Thanks to a continuous rise in import duties a shortage was maintained when prices were falling rapidly in the rest of the world. But the fall in our own exports finally produced a critical decline in prices in Spain. The poorer coal mines, which were worked during the war, were closed down; but the fact could not be attributed merely to the superiority of English coal, for there was also a general reduction of consumption. At present the demand for iron ore is diminishing. It is not alone England which cannot resume her metal production with the old intensity; Germany also is cancelling her orders because she has no hope of being able to continue work next winter. In recent cattle fairs an immense decline in orders and prices is noticeable. The wine harvest has been large, but there is no market, for some countries have reduced consumption by increasing taxes while others have absolutely prohibited alcoholic beverages. All the signs indicate that the coming winter will find us in the midst of a crisis. If to the general economic crisis there be added a crisis in the Treasury, and we have another disaster in Morocco such as that of 1921, it is not impossible that the pressure of public opinion in favor of abandoning Morocco may be so great that the government will have to give way before it.
In view of these dangers there are certain public men, notably El Conde de Romanones, who would like to see Spain emerge from her old international isolation. He would like to have a defensive agreement between England, France, Italy and Spain to replace the agreement which was attempted between the United States, England and France. Such an agreement would involve grave responsibilities for Spain in the event of a Germano-Russian alliance and an overturn of the frontiers fixed by the Treaty of Versailles. On the other hand, it would be a great relief to us to work in Morocco in agreement with France, provided that the latter respected our zone. Under such an agreement the Spanish Government would probably expect the assistance of France in discouraging whatever secessionist element there is in Catalan nationalism. The reigning Spanish dynasty, which has never been quite secure, would also look to an alliance with France to discourage anti-dynastic movements in Spain similar to those which led to the downfall of the monarchy in Portugal.
The difficulty of such an agreement, however, resides in the fact that its adoption does not depend upon Spain. The relations between France and England go from one crisis to another. Italy, too, is passing through a period of domestic crisis which makes her foreign policy uncertain. Yesterday she seemed to be wholly Anglophile; today she is almost Anglophobe. And so we return to our point of departure. It is not difficult for us to follow France and England together, but to have to choose between them is an undertaking of great difficulty, even for a government more distinguished and more interested in international politics than any we are accustomed to see in Spain.
The fundamental question for Spain, however, is one of ideals. None of the problems which confront Spain is so important as her own spiritual problem. The Spanish people are thoroughly sane; but they have no ideal. They follow slowly the course of modern civilization, in order not to be left entirely behind, but they show no creative enthusiasm. If we could discover the way to convince the Spanish that the business of everyday life also has an eternal significance, then the name of Spain would soon again be heard beyond her own borders.