"ACTION WAS NECESSARY TO AVOID SPAIN BECOMING A FAILED STATE OR WORSE, GOING FULL COMMUNIST..."
IDEOLOGICAL PRAGMATISM IN THE SPANISH CIVIL WAR AND IN ANGLO TWITTER
PUBLISHED: 11th July, 2018 | By MATT MARSHALL
The Spanish Civil War was the largest of a number of overlooked communist versus anti-communist wars of the 20th century. It teaches many lessons, but one of the most important is the value of pragmatism over ideological fervour in good leadership. To understand the war, first a bit of backstory to a democracy that made Weimar Germany look like a model of peace and prosperity.
In 1931, the Second Spanish Republic was created with a constitution that emphasized secularism, feminism, and socialism. It was an openly leftist project created after King Alfonso XIII had departed the country under political pressure. While leftists all over the world praised this new Spain, the many conservative Spanish Catholics resented the new government, which quickly entered their lives through measures like compulsory education. The years of the republic were one of political turmoil and instability. There were strikes and agitation by even more radical left wing groups that viewed the Republic as too bourgeoisie, and Catalonian separatism began to dominate national politics. On the other side there was a failed military coup in 1932, and the fascist Falangist movement was founded in 1933 in opposition to the new political order. In the 1936 election, the leftist Popular Front beat the rightist National Front in an election that simply brought more street violence and radicalism. Basically if you were to combine the last few months of Salvador Allende’s Chile and combined it with the 1970 October Crisis in Canada, you would have a pretty good idea of what the Second Spanish Republic was like.
The rightists watched as their nation was torn apart by leftist insanity and more of their brothers were gunned down in the streets. Action was necessary to avoid Spain becoming a failed state or worse, going full communist. High-ranking military officers began to conspire against the government. The extrajudicial killing of rightist politician Jose Calvo Sotelo on July 13th, 1936 by police proved the spark to the gunpowder. On July18th, a full-scale military uprising took place, with General Francisco Franco leading the effort in Morocco and General Emilio Mola leading in Spain itself. The initial uprising failed to take the capital or most of the major cites, but thanks to air support from Germany and Italy, Franco’s men were able to cross the Mediterranean. The opportunity for a killing blow had been lost. But the Rubicon had now been crossed, and a full-blown civil war had begun. Germany and Italy backed the nationalists, while the Soviet Union and Mexico backed the republicans. A early nationalist offensive on Madrid failed in the face of strong resistance by republican forces, turning the war into one of attrition.
The war would drag on until April 1st, 1939. Mola died in a plane crash during the war, but Franco would claim a hard fought victory. Much of the nationalist victory came from the superior support they got from Germany and Italy. But no less of a factor came from the fact that the nationalists were able to overcome the serious ideological divisions in their ranks, while their leftist Republican opponents succumbed to theirs. And the nationalist movement did have large ideological “blocs” within their forces. The aforementioned Falangist movement were classical fascists in the tradition of Mussolini, and were as opposed to free-market capitalism as they were to communism. The Republic at the outbreak of war executed their leader, the aristocratic and romantic Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera. The Falange fought on in the name of revenge. There were also the Carlists, reactionary Catholic monarchists who had been a political force in the country since the early 19th century. The Alfonsists were a similar movement that favoured the restoration of the previous Spanish king, unlike the Carlists who favoured a separate dynasty.
Franco found himself at odds with these movements at different times throughout the war. Many of the Falangists viewed him as insufficiently radical, while the Carlists and Alfonsists viewed him as potentially hostile to their respective monarchical secessions. The latter was too small to worry Franco, but the Carlists and the Falangists were both thousands strong. Franco himself had strong monarchist and Catholic sympathies and saw the Falange as useful allies, but that wasn’t enough for some. Franco proved himself to be a wily political rival however, and he spent much of the war asserting his own leadership. First of all he had a reputation above most others due to his command in the Rif War, and his Army of Africa were experienced fighters who held loyalty not to an ideology, but to him personally. Franco outmanoeuvred the Carlist leader Manuel Fal Conde and temporarily exiled him in late 1936. When Rivera’s successor Manuel Hedilla tried to assert his own political independence in 1937, his men began shooting at each other, and Franco restored order with relish. Soon after Franco absorbed all right-wing political parties into a single entity, with himself as chief. Despite their protestations, his political rivals soon learned that there would be no equal to the general in the nationalist camp. By the end of the war, Franco was the undisputed leader of the nationalist cause, receiving the salutes of Hedilla and Fal Conde’s men.
Franco triumphed where others faltered for a number of reasons, but chief amongst them is he was not fixed to hardline ideological rigidity. He was not hell-bent on restoring a particular royal dynasty to the throne of Spain, nor was he determined to bring about a fascist social revolution. His goal was simple: crush the Republic. His ideology was anti-republicanism and anti-leftism, and he saved most of the policy debates until after victory. His path was the pragmatism of a soldier, rather than the imagination of a political activist. The result was victory. His republican opponents devolved into sectarian infighting between Stalinists, Trotskyists and anarchists. When the nationalists finally took Madrid at the end of the war, most of its leftist defenders had spent the 11th hour fighting each other.
Why is this important? Because the modern right could use a few more “pragmatic” leaders. A great example of this is British rightist Twitter. The current British “right-wing” are a fascinating spectacle, and I hope to have a whole article on it in the near future. But we will begin the discussion now. In the last few months, Anglo Twitter has been swept by the phenomena of #HighToryGang, partly spearheaded by the irreverent British Nationalist youtube channel MasterBrew. The High Tories describe themselves as heirs to the reactionary British conservative tradition starting with Charles I. They are defined by a strong devotion to Anglicanism and Catholicism, a fierce monarchism, a belief in “taking over” the current UK Conservative Party, a pro-Brexit stance, a healthy reactionary love of the rural countryside, and a pronounced dislike for Neopaganism, Tommy Robinson, and Generation Identity. #HighToryGang has come up against fierce rivals however in many of the more ethnonationalist corners of the British right. Some of these are supporters of the ideals of British Fascist Oswald Mosley, and many are ex-British National Party members or subscribe to ideas of white nationalism from the United States or National Socialism from the European continent. While #HighToryGang are by-and-large not civic nationalists, they clearly view monarchism and Christianity as the basis of British identity, an unforgivable insult to some diehard ethno nationalists.
The comparisons between #HighToryGang and the Carlists are obvious, and British white nationalists and neofascists are not dissimilar from the Falangists. The banter between the two of them can be ghastly at times, and while both appeal to popular sentiments, they both are structured by ideological rigidity and spend as much time squabbling at each other than they do advancing their cause. The British nationalist scene desperately needs a pragmatist leader like Franco, whose ideology would be that of simple political victory. While #HighToryGang revere the House of Windsor, and many ethnonationalists view them as traitors complicit in mass immigration; a pragmatist leader would simply ignore the monarchy and focus on removing prominent British leftists from power. Those who hindered in this task would be slapped down, not because they lacked ideological purity, but because they represented a threat to the movement’s success. This sort of strongman Caesarism has been very effective throughout history. While some will argue that democracy prevents such a leader from arising, I would say that there has already been a great contemporary example of such a strongman politician on the other side of the Atlantic from Britain and Spain. But that is the topic for another article.
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