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THE liquidation of the Dictatorship is proving a severe test for the stability of Spain's fundamental institution -- the Monarchy. This indeed had been amply foreseen and foretold, and the monarch himself knew the risk. But on the unique pinnacle that is the position and also apparently the treasured possession of Kings of Spain, supported by traditions unknown in other countries, communing with the spirits of his long line of Hapsburg and Bourbon ancestors, Alfonso XIII has kept his own counsel and continues to be an autocrat for himself. No consideration for the safety of his dynasty seems to influence him; he is King of Spain, constitutional now only in name, but still proudly King of Spain. Of his predecessors, Philip II appears as his model rather than Amadeus of Savoy, who made such a brave but futile attempt to govern constitutionally and whose sacrifice was never understood by the Spaniards. Such independence of spirit is a true Spanish trait; perhaps it is the most endearing part of the hold which Alfonso of Bourbon-Hapsburg-Lorraine has upon his people.
In the criticism hurled at King Alfonso it is important to distinguish between that of a personal character and that which being of a juridical origin may come to serve as the basis for a royal indictment in the Cortes. To the first class belong the railings of Professor Miguel de Unamuno, whose prejudice against the royal house of Spain is terribly bitter. Unamuno's prestige in the intellectual world opens the ears of a wide public to his black calumny. But the chief import of his campaign lies in the influence which it has on the uneducated masses who form the potential revolutionary mob.
The commonest reproach laid at King Alfonso's door during the Dictatorship was that he was directly responsible for the advent of the Dictatorship and that he was the main support of General Primo de Rivera during his six years of office. Yet there was nothing more evident in the fall of the Dictatorship than the fact that King Alfonso put the Dictator out as resolutely as he is accused of having brought him in. One act should therefore balance the other. The situation is not so simple as that, however, and in attempting an estimate it is necessary to recapitulate some of the history of the last years of the Dictatorship, in particular 1927, 1928 and 1929.
THE END OF THE DICTATORSHIP
The Civilian Cabinet which replaced the Military Directorate in the last days of 1926 began to grapple successfully with many national problems. When the triumphant termination of the Moroccan campaign restored confidence in the destinies of Spain, the Finance Minister, Don José Calvo Sotelo, seized the psychological moment to consolidate the floating debt, no mean financial operation for any country but which represented a colossal effort for Spain, for it involved a sum of 5,225,000,000 pesetas ($1,045,000,000 at par). Freed from this burden, government finances began to look up and the peseta exchange recovered without artificial stimulation to 5.50 to the dollar. The outlook was thus brighter than for many years and it seemed that par value (5.18) was within easy reach. The decision to try to attain it, natural as it may have seemed at the time, was the first great mistake, the first step on what proved to be a continual downward path. It would have been easy to stabilize the peseta in the summer of 1927 at a figure within 10 percent of par. Now it has lost more than 50 percent of its value. Truly a golden opportunity lost. Moreover the requirements of stabilization would have obliged Señor Calvo Sotelo to avoid the pitfalls of extraordinary budgets and the course of history would have been altered. It is the old, old story of the nail from the horse's shoe that led to the loss of a battle, and to the loss of a kingdom too.
Discontent in the Artillery Corps concerning rules about promotion,[i] which had led to a dissolution of the Corps, spread to other arms. Learning this, Señor Sanchez Guerra, an ex-Conservative Prime Minister living in voluntary exile in Paris, embarked in January 1929 in a cargo boat at Port Vendres for Valencia. Bad weather delayed his arrival and the conspiracy aborted after a regiment of artillery at Ciudad Real had brought its cannon out into the streets and made a show of resistance for twenty-four hours. This affair led to a second dissolution of the Artillery Corps. The King signed the decree submitted by the Dictator but in common with many other Spaniards must have doubted the efficacy of such means of dealing with a necessary branch of the army. As chief of the army, the main prop of his throne, King Alfonso was alert to keep in touch with military opinion, and when he saw the Artillery discontent spreading, the doom of the Dictator was sealed. General Primo de Rivera, ill with diabetes but continuing to wear himself to the bone with strenuous office work, must have known that the army was deserting him and in that fact read his defeat also. But he was loath to give up without a struggle and when King Alfonso made bold one day to remind him of the defection of the army the taunt was more than the sick Dictator could bear. Alone in his office in the early hours of the morning, he lost his head and took the desperate and useless resolution to consult the Captains-General over the head of the King. This act of disloyalty -- for as such it was construed -- was promptly seized by the King as a reason for his dismissal. Thus did the Dictatorship come to an end in sorry manner, to be followed a few weeks later by the pathetic death of the ex-Dictator in a Paris hotel.
Other matters were working for the downfall of General Primo de Rivera. A policy of monopolies (the petrol monopoly followed the telephone monopoly) made fresh and powerful enemies for the Dictatorship among the foreign companies whose business was confiscated: the Shell group, the Standard Oil and others. In addition, large public works and railway concessions, such as the Alberche irrigation works and the Santander-Mediterranean strategic railway, gave rise to grave accusations of graft. Unfortunate university reforms antagonized students and professors and led to disturbances which the Dictator endeavored to put down by closing the universities all over Spain. This attempt to coerce the intellectuals was perhaps the most short-sighted act on the Dictator's part, for it gave rise to a movement of protest among the youth of the country. The Dictator's own nephew, president of the Students' Federation, led the resistance which on several occasions took a form disagreeable for the Crown -- the destruction of the royal effigy along with that of the Dictator.
Decidedly it was time to dissolve a dictatorship which was losing its hold on the nation. So long as it was possible the King had indeed proved a loyal supporter of the Dictator, but the moment had come to face the difficulties and dangers of a change and to endure in silence the public reproaches and affronts which dissociation from the Dictatorship entailed. King Alfonso did not hesitate.
THE SERVICES OF THE DICTATORSHIP
General Primo de Rivera, whatever his faults and failings, rendered three signal services to Spain, the effects of which will be lasting. He wound up the Moroccan question; he inaugurated a comprehensive and intelligent plan of economic reconstitution; and he brought six years of labor peace. If his army, educational, constitutional and other reforms proved inadequate, the immense benefit brought to Spain by the above-mentioned services can never be overlooked by history and can hardly be overestimated; they carried Spain round a turning point in her history. Spain is again at the crossroads, but with a strength, international prestige and national reserve force, the result of six years of progress, which she did not possess when General Primo de Rivera appeared on the scene.
The financial burden lifted from the shoulders of the nation by the final defeat of Abd el Krim and the pacification of the Moroccan Protectorate enabled reforms to be undertaken at home. The impulse given to railway building, the splendid success of the new roads, the activity in trade and industry opened up by an era of public works, the extension of irrigated areas, all contributed to an increase in the nation's wealth shown in the expanding tax returns.
The endeavor to create a permanent system of arbitration between capital and labor by means of the organization of the workers and employers into unions and guilds with obligatory arbitration in the form of mixed committees of employers and workers, called comités paritarios, was a constructive and statesmanlike effort to provide a solution for labor disputes, badly needed to forestall the spread of communism. Trotsky's opinion, after residence in Spain, was that "the Spaniards are ripe in town and country." This situation is due to the preponderance of agriculture, the existence of latifundia and the peculiar structure of industry in the two great centers of Barcelona and Bilbao, where the patronos (mill, mine or foundry owner class) are still in many cases benevolent despots. The comité paritario idea has survived the Dictatorship but will need force behind it for some time to come.
The military alliance with France for common action against Abd el Krim had effects outside Morocco. The return of Spain to the League of Nations and the elevation of the Ibero-American ideal to the sphere of practical politics (e.g., the sale of warships and the loan to Argentina), the cordial invitations for the Ibero-American Exhibition at Seville and the International Exhibition at Barcelona, the economic conference with Portugal, the transoceanic air flights and the visit of the Spanish fleet to South America, all contributed to release Spain from isolation and focus national outlook on broader lines. Finally, the twenty-seven treaties of conciliation and arbitration concluded under the Dictatorship will offer, it is to be hoped, lasting proof of its peaceful foreign policy.
Both military and naval reorganization occupied much of the Dictator's energies. In military matters he will perhaps be judged to have failed, for the task was mainly one of retrenchment. On the naval side it was different, for the navy had to be increased, not diminished. As a result the Spanish fleet holds a rank in Europe unknown since the days of the Armada.
Such were the achievements. Their merits cannot be diminished by the grievous mistakes and failings that stand forth during this remarkable period of Spain's history.
THE MISTAKES OF THE DICTATORSHIP
We have already pointed out the excellent opportunity for stabilization of the peseta that was lost, perhaps never to reappear. Let us turn now to the constitutional problem.
In 1923 the Dictatorship broke in on the humdrum life of the Cortes. By extinguishing the legislative chambers it cut short all possibility of giving legal form to a movement of opinion that was leading towards a revision of the constitution in a democratic sense, peacefully, by constitutional means. The Dictator, in the latter part of the Dictatorship when the so-called National Assembly was created, took up this idea of reforming the constitution. He appointed a committee and actually got as far as to publish a 45,000-word draft which it was proposed to ratify by plebiscite. This draft embodied retrograde ideas such as the creation of a Council of the Realm as a buffer between the executive and legislative powers and the king. Moreover it deprived the Cortes, that is to say the nation, of its sovereign power to modify the constitution.
Nothing need be said of this remarkable piece of draft legislation, the product of twenty months' laborious travail by the committee, beyond pointing out that it was an endeavor to settle the constitutional problem on lines diametrically opposed to those along which national opinion was working in 1923. The Dictator's good faith and belief in his work was evident, for he had ordered translations to be prepared in English, French, German and Italian with a view to placing this valuable contribution to the constitutional history of modern times within reach of the world. The draft drew down the hostility of the former party leaders, disciples of Canovas del Castillo, who had framed the Constitution of 1876, which occupied a worthy place among the liberal constitutions of Europe and had brought forty years of peace and prosperity to Spain.
King Alfonso, who may well have approved of the new constitution in secret since it would have invested him with greater personal power (a process sympathetic to his known feelings and nature), saw the danger arising from the appearance of confabulation between himself and the Dictator which a reform of the constitution would have signified; he therefore showed his disapproval. This display of resolution on King Alfonso's part undoubtedly increased the rift between him and the Dictator.
One of the most remarkable failures of the Dictatorship was in the matter of military reform. It was thanks to military opinion that General Primo de Rivera made his successful and bloodless coup d'état. Yet if we review the six years between 1923 and 1929 it would appear that almost the first acts of the Military Directorate roused opposition in the army. General Berenguer's trial in 1924, the Cavalcanti conspiracy of the same year, the midsummer night conspiracy of 1926 with the complicity of Marshal Weyler and General Aguilera, the first artillery revolt in the same year, the Valencia fracas and second artillery revolt in January 1929, are a long series showing that the army was even more active than the nation in opposing the régime.
The fact that the Dictator had such constant difficulties with army circles throws a strange light on this so-called military dictatorship, and is evidence that General Primo de Rivera was not a tool of the army. Indeed, he was in the end its victim, for it was the news of the rebellion being prepared in Andalucía under General Goded, Military Governor of Cadiz, reported to King Alfonso by his brother-in-law, Prince Alfonso of Bourbon-Caserta, Captain-General of Andalucía, that furnished the King with proof that army opinion was seriously on the move.
There are two theories regarding the forces behind this conspiracy, which bore its fruit without any open breach of discipline such as occurred at Valencia just a year previously. These two explanations are given here for what they may be worth, subject to revision in the light of history. One is that Prince Alfonso, whose loyalty was unimpeachable, reported such grave disaffection and so rapid a growth of republican feeling in the army that the King was genuinely alarmed. The other is that the Goded conspiracy was a bit of bluff organized from within the Royal Palace to supply the King with a final argument to induce Primo de Rivera to resign. That the Dictator suspected something of the kind is shown by his attempt to appeal to the Military District Commanders, though he might have remembered what took place on his own advent to power, namely that the Captains-General took their cue from the King instead of from the government. These high officers remained silent, though several of them (personal friends of the Dictator) are credibly reported to have advised him not to "act the goat."
There was nothing left for the Dictator but to vacate his position with as little loss of dignity as possible. In a communiqué addressed to the nation he declared he had not been in full possession of his faculties when he appealed to army opinion over the head of his colleagues; he expressed his deep and lasting gratitude to the King and said he proposed to retire in order to submit his shattered nerves to treatment.
While there may have been a touch of humor in the latter statement there was nothing but dead earnestness in the solemn asseveration that "for many years to come some sort of dictatorship will be imperative in Spain, where progress is possible only under the rifles of the police."
This final judgment from the man who for so long was omnipotent cannot be taken lightly, for events tend to confirm it.
THE "RETURN TO NORMALITY"
King Alfonso was ready when the crisis came. He simply nodded to Don Damaso Berenguer, Chief of the Military Household at the Palace and Commander of the Royal Bodyguard, who in the relatively short space of twenty-eight hours produced a cabinet. Those who came to the rescue in this way included King Alfonso's personal friend and premier Duke, the Duke of Alba; the court lawyer, Don Leopoldo Matos, and two other lawyers; a marquis; and a general, one of the District Commanders consulted by Primo de Rivera. A university professor was added later. This "scrap team," hastily got together to meet an emergency, has been nine months in office at the time this article is written.
When the Cortes is functioning in Spain cabinets fall like ninepins; otherwise officeholders hold on tenaciously. General Primo de Rivera announced that his tenure of office was to be ninety days. General Berenguer declared that his cabinet was purely temporary and would establish as rapidly as possible constitutional and juridical normality.
The change-over was effected with unexpected smoothness. There was one anxious moment on the evening of the day the Dictator resigned. At the hour when the theaters were emptying a mob of youths shouting "down with the King" approached the Palace followed by many idlers and curious spectators. Had they reached their goal there might have been unpleasant consequences, but armed police (a last service of the Dictatorship) intercepted them and turned them back to the broad artery of the Calle Alcalá, where they harmlessly wrecked and burned a clerical newspaper stand.
During the first weeks of the new régime it rained decrees. General Goded found himself installed at Madrid in the important post of Director of Army Training, shortly to be promoted to Under-Secretary for the Army. One after another the institutions of the Dictatorship went by the board: the National Consultative Assembly was suppressed, an amnesty was proclaimed readmitting 433 officers into the army, while Professor Unamuno and the student leader, Antonio Maria Sbert, returned triumphantly from exile.
King Alfonso signed away as busily as Penelope undoing her work. But the censorship was maintained and there was no sign of immediate convocation of the Cortes. Ministers were instructed to inspect and revise the plans of their predecessors but no discussion of the Dictatorship was to be allowed until the Cortes met. This prudence was successful in preventing a sudden reaction, and the rioting that was generally feared did not occur.
King Alfonso and the Dictator had been so closely associated, however, that it was impossible to suppress an outburst of opinion against the King. A former Conservative Prime Minister, Don José Sanchez Guerra, led the attack. With doubtful taste he compared His Majesty to a putrefying corpse, declaring before a crowded auditorium in Madrid's largest theater that he could no longer serve such a disloyal monarch. Señor Sanchez Guerra, however, refused to "go republican." If Alfonso XIII would abdicate he was willing to serve his son. But Señor Sanchez Guerra's own son, along with the son of Antonio Maura (also a former Conservative Premier) and an ex-Minister of War, Señor Alcalá Zamora, went over to the republican ranks, the first important converts to the republican ideal in many years.
The leader of the Reformist Party, Don Melquiades Alvarez, at a meeting in the Comedia Theater, declared that King Alfonso in accepting the Dictatorship had committed the mad act of tearing up the Constitution of 1876 and must abide by the consequences; he accepted the verdict of the nation as pronounced in Cortes Constituyentes, said Señor Alvarez, as to whether his people wanted him as king any longer or preferred to redraft the constitution.
From time immemorial it has been the Spanish tradition that the nation is sovereign and that the king only derives his sovereignty as representative of his people. The latest expression of this theory is to be found in the Constitution of 1876, but it extends clear back to the Cortes of Jaca in 1187, when the oath of fealty taken by the members of the Cortes ran as follows: "We and you are equal but we accept you as king provided that you uphold the law and if not, no."
The Bourbon and Hapsburg sovereigns on many occasions successfully defied this tradition and constrained popular liberties, and the people nevertheless remained firmly attached to the monarchist principle. The despotism of Spanish kings led to revolutions during the nineteenth century, but the monarchist tradition survived and vanquished two republics, the people turning joyfully in 1874 to welcome back the son of Isabella II, whom they had expelled ignominiously in 1868. This youth, Alfonso XII, then a student at the British Military Cadet College at Sandhurst, gave the nation guarantees contained in the Manifesto of Sandhurst. "Whatever happens," he declared, "I will be a good Spaniard, a true Catholic as all my ancestors, and also, as a man of today, a liberal." He recalled that in the early days of history the Kings of Spain did nothing without consulting the Cortes. "I shall not overlook this most just rule, and the settlement of all outstanding questions will be easy between a royal prince and a free people." Alfonso XII proved a true constitutional sovereign and his premature death was a great grief to the nation. His widow, Queen Maria Christina, brought up her son in strict constitutional practice, earning thereby the undying gratitude of the nation, as was touchingly expressed last year when she died. Under her sure guidance as Regent the Monarchy survived the loss of the colonies, and republicanism dwindled to such an extent that the younger republicans surrendered to the Monarchy and became the Reformist Party.
Spain's constitutional history will enter into a new chapter very shortly, for Alfonso XIII's activities, well meaning but constitutionally questionable, have landed him in the predicament either of having to face revolutionary republicanism as his great grandfather and grandmother did with open force, or else of compounding with his subjects on the Sandhurst principle.
Credited with more than the guile of Ferdinand VII, and with all the sympathy of character that made Isabella II loved while she was hated, Alfonso XIII is unlikely to take the third solution indicated by Señor Sanchez Guerra and other piqued politicians -- abdication. But he has had to swallow many bitter pills. Army officers, when he offered them a cigarette, found they did not smoke; the artillery expelled as unfit his deaf and dumb son, Prince Jaime, dedicated at birth to that arm of the service as second Infante of Spain; he must have listened in at Señor Sanchez Guerra's speech, knowing the hall to be full of the highest society in Spain; his bronze bust was decapitated and dragged about the tumble-down university precincts by infuriated students. Such incidents must have been galling to a man of great pride. Yet King Alfonso keeps his countenance and his counsel.
His dearest scheme is to provide Spain with a great University City where the ancient faculties, now crumbling in the insanitary quarters of old Madrid, will be rebuilt out in park lands on the hillside facing the Sierra Gaudarrama. To further this scheme he sends his dentist (provided with a title) to collect funds in far-off America, and his practical mind suggested the extra, monster, yearly lottery as another excellent means to procure money. A student in a recent public speech declared that Spain's youth would feel ashamed to cross the threshold of an institution provided by begging charity abroad and preying on human weakness at home in default of legitimate state aid. But King Alfonso carries on, knowing that when the new university is built and endowed Spain will have been served. At a recent inauguration of international hydroelectric works on the Duero, a scheme of immense import for Portugal and Spain financed by a republican millionaire, the King met his political adversary with the remark that republican and monarchist ideals should be secondary to service to Spain.
THE REPUBLICAN MENACE
The Republicans, however, do not credit Alfonso with any but the worst intentions of enslaving the nation, and it is undeniable that apparently large numbers of the Liberal classes, estranged by the restrictions of the Dictatorial régime, profess to have lost faith in the Monarchy.
The case against King Alfonso is made out as follows:
Violating his oath to the constitution, he conferred supreme office on a rebellious general (Primo de Rivera) in mid-September 1923, fifteen days before the Cortes was due to meet. Reason? Because the activities of the committee of twenty-one deputies investigating responsibilities for the military disasters in Morocco had to be stopped. This committee, it is stated, had obtained evidence of correspondence between the King and General Silvestre (the defeated General) over the head of the Commander-in-Chief in Morocco, General Berenguer, which engaged the King in responsibilities for the disaster at Anual which cost 10,000 lives.
What did General Primo de Rivera do once he had come to power? He closed the Cortes and seized the papers of the committee. Further, General Berenguer, condemned by the Supreme Court of Military Justice for his share in the Moroccan disaster, was pardoned and given high office in the Royal Palace, whence in turn he emerged to cover the retreat of General Primo de Rivera. Who pulls all the strings? The King. What a humiliating situation for Spain in the eyes of the whole world. Down with the King! Such is the Republican indictment and verdict.
The Republicans ask further: Is it to be the fate of Spain to be handed back to the dynastic parties which were running her affairs in 1923? This question contains the crux of the situation. If general elections really take place the Cortes will want to begin work where they left off before the Dictatorship. Most of the members of the famous committee of twenty-one are alive and stand a good chance of reëlection. They will doubtless remember some of the evidence with regard to the Responsibilidades affair that rocked Spain for so many months. That this possibility would drive the King into the arms of another Dictator before the elections was a current belief some months ago. But the date for the elections approaches (they will be held early in 1931) and there is no evidence that General Berenguer is likely either to be replaced by a Dictator or to become one. On the contrary he is advancing, very cautiously but steadily, towards the goal of a Cortes, calling upon the Monarchists to rally round the throne and defying the Republicans to do their worst at the elections, promising to guarantee the rights of all voters.
The censorship has now been abolished and the right of meeting reëstablished. Political propaganda has therefore a free path for pre-electoral activities. And here appears the unexpected -- or rather, is it not what those who know Spain may have been expecting? -- namely, that no party seems in a hurry to avail itself of the restored liberties for which it had been clamoring for so long. Before the Dictatorship public opinion was weak and disorganized. Now that the Dictatorship is over, and despite the noise made by its adversaries, public opinion appears in even sorrier posture than before, for General Primo de Rivera failed utterly to inculcate a spirit of citizenship.
The Republicans, who boast of their numerical strength, are wavering whether or not to go to the elections, and this despite the fact that their allies, the Socialists (90 percent of Spanish socialists are republicans), have decided to do so. The Monarchist parties, both Conservative and Liberal, appear as divided as formerly. Their leaders, the same threadbare politicos as of old, pop out of the warrens into which the Dictator drove them and reassume the leadership of rival groups whose entire energies had been consumed in pre-Dictatorial days in intrigue for office and who appear to have learned nothing from the passing of the Dictatorship.
It is possible that the Republicans may make a bid for office by revolution before the elections take place. Their refusal to appeal to the electorate (they might well secure between 40 or 50 seats in a House of 400) may reasonably be interpreted in the sense that they intend at least to have a try at violence. This supposition finds support in the persistent rumors circulating in Madrid as these lines are being penned. To be successful a revolutionary movement would have to be able to count on a considerable portion of the army. Major Franco, the aviator, hero of the flight to South America, expressed republican leanings in a press interview and was recently arrested. Do many of Franco's comrades agree with him? This is a question that can be answered only by events. Nor do those responsible for law and order have only army discipline to think about. The reappearance of the Sindicato Unico in Barcelona and the evidence of communist propaganda in many other towns during the recent epidemic of strikes are reminders that socialist doctrines have only a precarious hold on the proletariat in Spain. But it sufficed recently for General Berenguer to make a few (perhaps about one hundred) arrests to stop the strike movement at once, quite possibly depriving thereby the Republicans of the lever they were hoping to use as a means to get their revolution going.
The peseta, one of the few unstabilized currencies in the world today, has recently been the victim of the uncertain outlook. It is typical of the confused situation in Spain that with all the means at hand to stabilize the peseta no attempt was made to do so in good time. It has sufficed now for a committee led by the Governor of the Bank of Spain to visit London and Paris and exhibit documentary proof of Spain's financial resources to secure a rapid improvement in the exchange.
This easy success is an example allowing of optimism with regard to the future, for it demonstrates as clearly as General Berenguer's recent handling of the strike situation that with a little decision the artificial difficulties of many situations can be dissipated, revealing solid ground beneath. At bottom, indeed, Spain is a nation full of vitality, prosperous in spite of all, and with the Sancho Panza element of common sense dominant. Under the circumstances, revolution by violence would be merely an attack of madness -- as mad as any enterprise of Don Quixote, but lacking the chivalry. It could occur only in a nation piqued and exasperated by six years of dictatorship to forgetfulness of all reason.
King Alfonso is working to raise the University City as a monument to his reign. He need not trouble. Come what may, the best monument a king could have is the immense material progress realized by Spain since the beginning of the century, a movement in which King Alfonso has been both leader and laborer.
[i] The Dictator proposed to enforce advancement by selection for Artillery officers who had sworn to accept it only by seniority.