Can Putin Survive?
The Lessons of the Soviet Collapse
GENERAL Francisco Franco, on Wednesday, October 1, 1958, drove to Madrid from the royal country house where he lives, and in the royal palace, carefully roped off so that no one could pass its walls on that side of the street, held audience in celebration of what he called the twenty-second anniversary of taking power. He also went to an official mass in the church of San Francisco el Grande. ABC, the leading newspaper, dedicated to the occasion a special section of its Thursday morning edition. The theme which it tried hard to drive home was the legitimacy of the Franco régime.
Both the date and the theme say more than may meet the eye. The Caudillo, as any number of records testify, won his present post in civil war; it was on April 1, 1939, that he declared the last vestiges of Republican opposition ended, and himself ruler over all Spain. But he prefers to celebrate the date when the Burgos Junta chose him over competing generals and put him in charge of what they called the Nationalist forces. This, to his mind, gives him two more years in power, and, like the inches added to a short man's shoes, makes him feel bigger. Similarly, having won power by conquest, he must claim additional legal sanction by a tortuous process of ratiocination which seems to tie him in to the long-postponed return of the monarchy. This insistence on his own version of the facts, this strange communicated sense of uneasiness before abstract bits of truth, is startling to a visitor who goes back after a considerable absence to see what the régime looks like and what Franco has accomplished in these 20 years. Like the armed squad cars ranged ready for trouble at night, they testify to a basic insecurity.
Yet it must be said at the outset that in physical terms a great deal has been accomplished, particularly since 1951. Madrid is almost twice as big as when it was surrendered to Franco in 1939. It is still pock-marked with shot in places, but most of its visible wounds of war have disappeared. A clean city, it is now crowded with motor traffic; it is handsomely gardened; and in the center, at least, it looks adequately dressed and comfortably fed. The old telephone building 14 stories high which was Madrid's prewar pride has been topped by two skyscrapers that tower 20 stories up. New banks were the city's symbol of prosperity in 1951; new apartment houses, grandiose government buildings and new factories on the outskirts of the city play that rôle now.
In terms of morale the changes are harder to measure. There is perhaps less arguing than a few years ago about the General or his policies, less attempt to explain what he is trying to do; cautious discussion has been replaced by a wry shrugging of the shoulders, as in the face of a natural phenomenon that must run its course. This does not mean that the people are content, but when were Spaniards ever satisfied? Political protests are made, and not only by the argumentative young. Political arrests are said to continue. But this is told by word of mouth--the newspaper reader learns no such heresies. Meanwhile, a generation that never knew the Civil War is growing up and old bitternesses are receding. The net effect is a curious passivity; if a volcano underlies it, the smoke shows only in thin spurts.
The socio-political structure is not so different from what it was. The army seems to be gaining in its struggle for power with the Falange and getting back its old strength. The Church, outwardly powerful, suffers internal divisions, distrusts the new civilian order of "Opus Dei" which has at least three members in the Cortes, of whom two are Franco's close advisers. The large landowners continue in possession of their hectares, the "frivolous" nobility "have learned nothing these twenty years." Labor is held in check by complex devices meant to placate and control. The new element is an active middle class.
Spain had a bourgeoisie in 1936--indeed its timidity and inexperience are blamed by some critics for the failure of the Republic to hold and consolidate its power. But the middle class that made the Republic, and lost it, was dominated by a group of idealistic intellectuals who drew their inspiration from the French Revolution. The newly-emergent middle classes have more money and less book learning. They also control a degree of industrial power which did not exist in Spain before the Civil War.
Economically--but that story is more involved, and comes later.
Against this sketch, the queries that loom are no longer whether the Caudillo has done well or ill with his self-appointed stewardship, but what kind of a Spain he has fashioned and what type of a rôle it can play in the second half of the twentieth century. The General is 66 years old, and questions which could be shoved aside in 1951 are pressing closer now. With Don Juan, son of the late King Alfonso XIII, living quietly in nearby Portugal, with his son Don Juan Carlos growing to maturity, it is no longer so easy to end all discussions about the future by saying that Spaniards have no choice except Franco or another civil war. They stated by vote in 1947 that they would choose to become a monarchy, "traditional, Catholic, social and representative," but the phrase leaves questions unanswered. If this vote and the Law of Succession hold, the king will presumably be Don Juan, unless Franco keeps the reins in his own hands for another decade, when Don Juan's son will be 30 years of age. On the other hand, there is the chance of another course, and this discussion always ends with a question mark.
With this matter of the succession goes the question of the form of government which will act within the cloak of monarchy. The recent history of Spain has given little hope that the democratic disciplines as practised in Great Britain or the United States would have much chance of success. In the past century and a half the Spaniards have made three tries at establishing a republic--in 1812, 1873 and 1931--with very little luck. At the same time, their experience with monarchy over the same 150 years has been turbulent and hardly happy. Their two periods of controlled peace, under General Primo de Rivera who acted as dictator for Alfonso XIII, and under Franco, make one wonder whether Americans are right in thinking military dictatorships always recessive and deplorable. The question is not meant to be frivolous or tendentious. Is the dictator-run corporative state a form that is sympathetic to the Latin temperament? Is it a transitional form, under which countries that have lagged can make the revolutionary move from an agricultural to an industrial economy? Is backward agriculture at the root of Spain's long pattern of internecine warfare between regions, creeds and classes, with the repeated expulsion of the losers so that Spain emerges from war impoverished not only physically but also humanly? Will the automobile, the paved road, the telephone and the factory make for a national unity such as Spain has not known since Roman days? And if so--the questions go around full circle--under what form of government will these modern unifying factors hold it together?
A further complication lies in the fact that while the answers are being worked out, Spain is embarking on an activity in international relations such as she has not had since she lost her empire. Castigated in 1946 by the United Nations as a country "potentially dangerous for peace," she has now been accepted as a member of the United Nations, the World Bank, the Monetary Fund and other international organisms. (Within Spain the reproof of 1946 is said to have united Spaniards behind Franco, much the way a family divided within itself closes ranks against outside attack, and to have kept him in power at a moment when he was tottering.) These new associations will require the government to submit to a new degree of reality in terms of bookkeeping and criticism. At the same time Franco will certainly try to exert influence in Mediterranean questions, in North African affairs, in Spanish-American matters--and all the while managing a young and still potentially fractious governing mechanism at home.
These are considerations for the future. In order to see them in proportion it is useful to scan at least the recent past from which they stem. Leaving behind the restless reign of Alfonso XIII, with its anarchist outbreaks, its too frequent changes in cabinet, its period of dictatorship (which left behind a skeleton of paved roads and an American telephone system), one comes to the still controversial Republic.
The Europe of 1931 was caught in the economic crises which had been building up since 1928, and which were to play their part in increasing Mussolini's power in Italy and bringing Hitler to power in Germany. That Spain should have undertaken in that ominous year a "bloodless revolution," dispensing with its hereditary monarch and putting its new Republican government into the hands of an inexperienced and contending group of intellectuals, socialists and trade-union men, has about it in retrospect a quality of pathos. Of the good intentions and sterling virtues of that first group of men who walked into power on an April morning in 1931 many people had, and have, no doubt; but good intentions and sterling virtues were not enough, even when combined with a fervent political idealism which stemmed from the desire to see installed in Spain an equivalent of the liberté, égalité, fraternité of the French Revolution. The move was a token of the distance which separated Spain from the rest of Europe--a distance in time rather than in space--and of the degree of unreality which afflicted the country's political thinking.
This is not the place to retrace the several tragedies of the Republic, of which an essential element was the absence, from its ruling group, of people with adequate knowledge of economic forces and of the part they play in political events. The marvel is not that it went down, but that it lasted as long as it did and commanded as much of Spanish loyalty. From a practical point of view, it was quixotic and doomed to failure. Morally, it represented deep ideals that Franco has neither satisfied nor quenched.
When in July of 1936, after having put down the 1934 uprisings in the Asturias with iron severity and the use of Moorish troops, General Franco flew in from Africa to make war on a government which had been confirmed by popular elections five months earlier, the ruling pattern of Europe was by no means that to which the Republic had pinned its faith. Three dictatorships, in Portugal, Italy and Germany, seemed to represent the current ideal. The moment looked ripe for a general to follow suit in Spain. By September, General Franco had outwitted and outmanœuvred the competing fellow generals. On September 29 the rebel Junta in Burgos made him Caudillo (as Hitler was Führer and Mussolini was Duce) of the National Movement and Generalissimo of the troops of air, sea and land. After two-and-a-half years more of hard fighting he was in truth head of the Spanish state.
So much destruction has come to so many countries since 1939 that it is hard to give adequate weight to the situation he then faced. That it was a situation basically of his own making may have helped his morale, but did not lighten his problems. When the Civil War, which he had started, was over, he faced the task of governing and rebuilding a country mourning a million dead and half a million in exile; with its livestock decimated; the railway rolling stock cut in half and the motor vehicles two-thirds gone; roads and bridges broken up, thousands of buildings, both dwellings and public offices, destroyed; the merchant fleet all but gone; the public reserves spent on war materials. People were exhausted; the passions of civil war left apathy and bitterness.
Within the victorious Nationalist forces contending ambitions were by no means dead. The Falange, copied after the Fascist and Nazi parties in Italy and Germany, had come out ahead, and by virtue of a decree of July 31, 1939, became the basis of the new state; but the army, the Carlist Requetés and the monarchists were by no means silenced. A majority of the Church was with Franco, but the Basque priests were in exile. In 1937 a "Collective Letter" signed by the priests then in Spain warned him that "We would be the first to lament if in place of the irresponsible autocracy of a parliament there should be substituted the more terrible one of a dictatorship divorced from the nation."
To balance these internal elements of discord Franco may have thought he had the counterweight of aid from Germany and Italy, which had been so very helpful during his local war; but such illusions vanished very quickly. The German-Russian pact of August 1939, by which his most powerful ally appeared to join forces with the Communist power whose existence he had used to justify his own rebellion against the Republic, must have given him sleepless nights. Coming a month before he had set up the framework of the new Spanish state, it may have given him additional justification for assuming absolute authority over "the historic régime whereby Spain has acquired the possibility of realizing her destiny," and for making himself "responsible only to God and history."
That responsibility was to be sharply tested. The internal affairs of Spain during World War II are less clear than its external dealings, for the focus of American interest was not on how the Spaniards were licking their wounds and schooling themselves to peace but on what Franco was doing to aid or to impede the Axis aims. As early as the Munich crisis in 1938, he declared that in the event of a European war Spain would stay neutral. This was a recognition of Spain's impotence rather than a simple expression of desire. By temperament, training and the claims of reciprocity his sympathies lay with Hitler and Mussolini. The records of certain interviews with them make this clear, as do the memoirs left by British and American Ambassadors whose business it was to try to keep him from giving the Axis all it asked.
Meanwhile, internal affairs had been moving ahead somewhat jerkily under the spur of hunger and the Caudillo's need to rebuild his national house and hold his forces together. Various Republican ideas of reforms were undone--Catalonia and the Basque provinces were deprived of their hard-won home rule statutes, the Society of Jesus which had been expelled for dubious activities was invited back. Punishments were devised for all persons "guilty of subversive activities" since October 1934, or who had "opposed the National Movement in fact or by grave passivity" --a phrase which, letting loose a postwar flood of reprisals, may have taken men's minds off the fact that they were hungry. Economically, the first spartan plan had been to cut down imports, do without foreign credits, develop production and exports; but the task was too heavy. A loan of £2,000,000 sterling was arranged with England in 1940, wheat, meat and cotton were bought from Argentina in 1941, and Red Cross cargoes of food, clothes and medical supplies sent from the United States. Ten years later, a manufacturer, recalling those days, told how he had had to install a commissary in his factory and arrange clandestine night deliveries from the country in order to buy his workers food enough so that they would have strength to go on working. He himself lived on beans and chick peas measured out in the kitchen by his wife, not in cups but one by one.
Franco, whose skill in playing Peter off against Paul is one of his most valuable talents, emerged from World War II convinced that he had put both the Axis and the Allies heavily in his debt, and he prepared to make claims against both sides. Had he not given Hitler all that he demanded except the right to march through Spain and take Gibraltar? Had he not helped the Allies by keeping Spain inviolate and refusing that passage? The German diplomats still sat fatly in Madrid, where they were very comfortable. The Allies would surely show their gratitude.
Meanwhile he had the aid of a new commercial and industrial energy which, driven in part by hunger and in part by the breakup of traditional ways which war brings, was showing itself among middle class lads who had done little before the war but sit around cafés. To be an idle "señorito" was no longer fashionable or possible; the Falange motto "Todo por la patria"--"Everything and everyone for the fatherland"--included working for Spain as well as dying for it. This outburst of energy had various concomitants, not all of them happy, but it was one of the most important factors in creating the present Spanish spectacle.
To hold this new entrepreneurial force within bounds, and keep it working for Spain and Franco, changes had to be made. The "National Movement" had been set up in 1939 as a state within a state, in imitation of the Fascist and Nazi one-party régimes then in fashion. Holding the highest power, Franco began his civilian rule with the aid of a National Council, a Political Junta and the Falange. The task of the Falange was "to establish an economic régime over-riding the interests of individual group or class . . . to multiply wealth in the service of the state, of social justice, and of the Christian liberty of the individual."
That framework, simple in structure but complex in implication, has been modified several times since it was set up, and always in the direction of added complexity. Franco is Chief of State, Prime Minister and the active source of power. He has a military-civilian Cabinet of 16 to help him in his executive tasks, and a Cortes of some 500 members, reëstablished in 1942 as "the superior organ of participation of the Spanish people in the task of the State," with its chief duty "the preparation and elaborations of the laws" but without interference with Franco's power. Some of its members are there by virtue of other offices which they hold, some are elected by towns, provinces, the National Syndicates and certain professional organizations; not more than 50 may be appointed by the Caudillo from the military, the Church, the administrative or social spheres, or because of "eminent services to Spain." Those who are elected hold office for three years and may run again, those who are ex-officio must leave when they lose the office that put them there, those appointed by Franco may be removed at will. Perhaps the most important thing which this body has done since its re-creation was the passage, in 1947, of the Law of Succession; with it went a listing and establishment of the fundamental laws of the nation. Regarded in the beginning as a rather unwieldy rubber stamp for the Caudillo, the Cortes, acting within the necessary framework of discretion, has shown enough backbone to win it a somewhat surprised respect.
Only one party is allowed, still called the "National Movement" and wearing the unwieldy title of "Falange Española Tradicionalista y de las JONS (Juntas Ofensivas Nacional-Sindicalistas)"--a name sometimes seen on placards but seldom heard in full. Within that single party the usual struggles for power go on, masked by pretense, but by no means stifled.
Apart from these conventional organs of government stand two other types which deserve more space than can be given them here. The first is the National Syndicates, which make it possible for Spain to call itself solemnly a Syndicalist State (a phrase which sets the unwary foreigner by the ears), and the second is the state corporation. These are not the Caudillo's inventions, but copied and combined from originals in Italy, Germany and Portugal. Between them, and in their very different ways, they represented Franco's answer to the twin questions of how to get production going again after the war and how to keep labor in hand.
The National Syndicates are of two types, those that represent the 23 basic industries and those that represent smaller groups of labor and industry in the provinces. Both are as strange to an American eye as though the A.F.L.-C.I.O. were put in double harness with the N.A.M. and told not only to settle their own disputes but also to agree upon a representative of both sides for election to Congress. In substance they are a form of labor-management organization, trusted by neither side but used at times by both. The industrial syndicates are set up vertically in each industry, from raw material production to retail sales. The more general area type of syndicate is set up by municipality first; the municipal syndicates elect provincial boards, the provincial syndicates elect a national board. Franco appoints their chiefs. Skeptics claim that this complex structure averts labor-management disputes by keeping everyone so busy operating its mechanisms that they have no time or energy to spend on more basic woes, but strikes, while illegal, are by no means unknown.
The national corporations are autonomous agencies, managerial organisms whose function it is to give private industry state aid and encouragement. There are said to be 900 of these, of which ten are big. The estimate of their value varies with the commentator, and some of them are openly accused of having lavished money on schemes more grandiose than practical; it is perhaps significant that one of the largest, which was getting about 4 billion pesetas a year out of the government budget, was recently told it must make its own loan arrangement with the banks.
Obviously the existence of a government structure of this size in a nation of only 30,000,000 people raises a multitude of questions which are emphasized by the number of vast new ministry buildings now being erected. Like the ornate tunnel-tomb which Franco had built between 1942 and 1958 (reputedly with the labor of political prisoners and at a cost said to exceed $200,000,000), it represents in part a legacy from the past. Franco is not the first ruler to try to solve an unemployment problem by creating government jobs. Also, the ill is an old one; the Spanish bureaucracy, like the French, has traditionally been as overstaffed as underpaid.
What the structure was supposed to do was first set forth in the 26 Principles of the Falange, now reduced to 12 "Principles of the National Movement," proclaimed by the Cortes on May 17, 1958, as a synthesis of the "Fundamental Laws" which the people affirmed in 1947. Their phrasing is grandiose, and hard for a practical mind to translate. The characteristics of the state which they presumably describe were summed up by Don José Castán, President of the Supreme Court, as follows: "First, a profound respect for the juridical and political tradition as root and base of the historic conscience which orients and inspires the Movement. Second, an organic concept of economic life, anti-individualist and anti-party, constructed with interventionist elements and of a moderate syndicalist type, strongly preoccupied with social meaning. Third, as the most dominant influence, the Catholic concept of life and the world, imposing recognition of the primacy of spiritual values over those that are material, and giving a sense of harmony to the diverse state structurings."
Behind the busy façade of syndicates and state corporations stands an ancient agricultural economy operating in a semi-arid country with rainfall too uncertain for safety and with practices belonging to a feudal age. Before the war Spain usually managed to feed itself according to its own standards of living, which were then 40 percent below those of other Western European countries. Average annual income was about $250 per person (it has now risen to $346). It is on this primitive base that General Franco and his aides have been trying to build an industrial complex worthy of the Caudillo's ambitions. In this they have been enormously aided by American assistance over the past eight years.
It has been the fashion in both Spain and the United States to play down the importance of American aid--in Spain for reasons of national pride, in the United States out of political, diplomatic and military considerations. But the facts speak for themselves. The difference between the Spain of 1951 and the Spain of 1958 is not to be explained away by a couple of good harvests, a year of abundant rainfall or an extra turn of the dictator's screw. Undoubtedly the expansion in apartment construction, the new factories, the degree of improvement in roads and even in railroads is not to be credited wholly to American aid. But it is equally clear that this could never have been accomplished without help from outside, and the help they had was almost a billion American dollars appearing in one form or another within the country.
The first loan went to Spain in 1951--a wheat loan of $62,500,000. It was followed by a series of smaller loans in 1952 and 1953, and then, as the big cash for American base construction began flowing, by aid and loans of various kinds. By now, $894,800,000 of public money has been spent in Spain; by fiscal 1959 the figure will top a billion; and there is no indication that that is all. Nor does this include private loans. In a country with an annual income which runs around $6 billion (an average figure for 1952-54, which inflation has increased), an average input of an extra $100,000,000 is by no means inconsiderable. Nor is the argument sound that because part of that income arrived in the form of wheat, or cotton, or earth-moving machinery, or as a generative force for counterpart funds, it should not be added in. The 1957 report of the Banco Nacional, describing the impact of American aid and recognizing that the bases were finished and that less would henceforth be spent, observed hopefully that by using the earth-moving machinery which was used for the bases, a relatively small expenditure of pesetas would make possible agricultural programs which would very quickly bring about an increase in the food supply. The question that nobody dares to raise is what will happen to Spain when and if American aid should cease.
This picture of a dictator holding power by playing one force off against another, of a top-heavy state, newly rich in the bulging cities, given to grandiose expenditures yet pushing ahead with industrialization in a spasmodic attempt to balance feudal fields with modern factories, is itself an answer to the question posed earlier as to whether a corporative state is a form that works well for Latins. The country is at heart, in history and religion, schooled to a hierarchial society with little movement back and forth between levels. It has enormous arrears of tradition which make an undifferentiated democracy seem to its people alien as well as difficult. Its present spurt of energy is due in part to the increased degree of mobility which war gave it, but this does not mean that it understands or desires equality between levels in the American sense. The present system of divisions into syndicates, and of election to the Cortes not only by towns but also by occupational and professional groups, is a recognition of this ancient factor in the national character. It is also, of course, a way to quiet controversy and to freeze dissidents in their places.
If one can peel away the layers of language that do so much to conceal the workings of this state, it appears as a curious compromise, somewhere between the simple dictatorship of Primo de Rivera with the monarchy behind him and the equally simple dictatorship of a Hitler or a Stalin with their respective parties behind them. If it has elements of state socialism in the syndicates, it also has elements of state capitalism in the corporations, the latter enforced by the degree of state control exercised over banks, trade and so on. Nevertheless, it is clear that the best economic thinking in this régime has come out of those banks, which means out of private initiative, and that is a balancing element. For the first time in many régimes the government has been infused with an active economic awareness which dictates many of the things it does, and while opinions vary as to the wisdom of its economic advisers, the results of their work show.
The chances would seem to be good that if Franco has the strength, the courage and the luck to manage the eventual transfer of power from his own hands to those of his successor in such a fashion as to avoid crippling violence, something of this energy and organization will carry over. The Law of Succession is, unhappily, a weak bridge. In order not to give away power or make himself too tempting for assassination, Franco has carefully arranged that the agreed monarchy is to be headed by someone of royal blood or another Spaniard at least 30 years old if the Council of the Realm so chooses. But the Council of the Realm will hardly be sitting in a vacuum, and while Spanish history is full of poor rulers who followed powerful ones, the activity of the new middle class may prevent a retreat to old despairs. The underpinnings, like the steel threads that hold together the new apartment houses, seem much too slender, and a few of the new buildings have been known to crumple. Perhaps it is a good omen that most of them survive thus far. Whether they would survive an earthquake, or whether the corporative state will survive Franco's eventual departure, is anybody's guess.
As for the Caudillo, he has undoubtedly grown in stature since American aid began pouring in. Where the initiative first came from, whether it was he who attracted the aid, or the Americans who persuaded him that permission to build bases was a quid pro quo worth accepting, is not quite clear, but like the late Huey Long, if he did not plan all this, he certainly knew a break when he saw one. Meanwhile he has, in Spanish terms, been riding a wave of the future that is carrying the country into the heady swirl of international conferences. His foreign policies have thus far had a mixed success, but for the time being, at least, he has put isolation behind him, and behind Spain. The result may astonish both.