Francoist Spain

Francoist Spain
Estado Español
Spanish State

Flag Coat of arms
Plus Ultra
Una, Grande y Libre
"Marcha Granadera"
Map depicts territorial status of Spain in 1958.

Green: Integral constituent of the Spanish state
(includes overseas provinces)
Lime: Protectorates
Orange: International joint administrations
Capital Madrid
Language(s) Spanish (official)
Catalan, Galician, Basque, others (unofficial; discouraged and suppressed by the Franco regime)
Religion Roman Catholicism
Government Autocratic single-party state
(until 1947)
Interregnal absolute monarchy
(after 1947)
Head of State¹
 - 1936–1975 Francisco Franco
Chief of Government
 - 1936–1973 Francisco Franco
 - 1973 Luis Carrero Blanco
 - 1973–1976 Carlos Arias Navarro
 - 1976–1981 Adolfo Suárez
 - Spanish Civil War 1936–1939
 - Foundation 1 October 1936
 - Republic defeated 1 April 1939
 - Death of Franco and beginning of Spanish transition to democracy 20 November 1975
 - 1975 504,030 km2 (194,607 sq mi)
 - 1975 est. 35,563,535 
     Density 70.6 /km2  (182.7 /sq mi)
Currency Spanish peseta
¹ Franco was titled Caudillo de España, por la gracia de Dios, and was the de facto dictator of Spain. After the formal restoration of the Spanish monarchy in 1947, he became effectively the country's absolute regent until his death, when his designated successor, Prince Juan Carlos, ascended to the Spanish throne as king.

¹ All legislation was passed by the Government until the transition to democracy.

Francoist Spain refers to a period of Spanish history between 1936 and 1975 when Spain was under the authoritarian dictatorship of Francisco Franco.

The regime was formed on 1 October 1936 by Francisco Franco and the National Defense Committee (a faction of the Spanish army rebelling against the Republic). The regime was entrenched upon the victory in the Spanish Civil War of the rebel Nacionales coalition. Besides the internal support, Franco's rebellion had been backed from abroad by Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany, while the Second Spanish Republic was increasingly backed by the communist Soviet Union.

After winning the Spanish Civil War, the Nacionales had established a single party authoritarian state under the undisputed leadership of Franco. World War II started shortly afterwards, and though Spain was officially neutral, it did send a special Division of troops to Russia to aid the Germans, and its pro-Axis stance led to it being isolated after the collapse of the Axis powers. This changed with the new Cold War scenario, on the face of which Franco's strong anti-communism naturally tilted its régime to ally with the United States.

Spain was declared a kingdom in 1947, but no monarch was designated. Franco reserved for himself the right to name the person to be king, and deliberately delayed the selection due to political considerations. The selection finally came in 1969, with the designation of Juan Carlos de Borbón as Franco's official successor.

With the death of Franco on 20 November 1975, Juan Carlos became the King of Spain. He immediately began the process of a transition to democracy, ending with Spain becoming a constitutional monarchy articulated by a parliamentary democracy.


Etymology and usage

The formal name of Spain during the Franco era was the Spanish State (Estado Español). In 1947, the state was formally proclaimed to be a monarchy,[1] but international treaties continued after that date to refer to it as the Spanish State rather than as the Kingdom of Spain.[2][3]

When the Spanish Civil War broke out, the Nationalist forces immediately began using the form the Spanish State rather than the Spanish Republic or the Kingdom of Spain, out of deference to the differing political sensibilities of the members of the Nationalist coalition, which included, amongst others, the anti-monarchic fascist Falangists, and the rival conservative-monarchist Carlists and Legitimist parties.

Following the Second World War, both the Falangist and Carlist movements declined, while Franco's rule was consolidated. This allowed Franco to nominally restore the Spanish monarchy without any significant opposition.


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The Nationalist senior generals held an informal meeting in September 1936, where they elected Francisco Franco as leader of the Nationalists, with the rank of Generalísimo (sometimes written in English as Generalissimo, after the Fascist Italian fashion). He was originally supposed to be only commander-in-chief, but after the death of General Emilio Mola (the initial leader of the movement) became head of state as well with nearly unlimited and absolute powers.

This provisional government ruled over the territories controlled by the Nationalists during the Civil War. Its main political action during the war was the consolidation of the heterogeneous political forces that joined the rebellion into a single party, the authoritarian Falange.[4]

During the war, the Nationalist government repressed Republican militants and sympathizers, as retaliation for the repression of clergy and Nationalist militants on the opposite side. Extrajudicial killings were widespread on both sides during the whole war. The retaliation continued right after the war, in part to punish war crimes committed under the Republican government, under a trial called Causa General. Franco's government executed, jailed, or subjected to forced labor thousands of Republicans, but many of them were entirely innocent of anything other than the flimsiest support for the Republican cause, or merely being related to known Republicans. As a result thousands chose to go into exile, mostly in France and Mexico. Of those who fled to metropolitan France, many joined the French resistance against the Nazis. One such exile in metropolitan France was Lluís Companys, President of the Catalan Government; he was subsequently arrested and extradited to Spain in September 1940 by the Pétain regime, then executed after a military trial.

Many of those who had supported the Republic fled into exile. Spain lost thousands of doctors, nurses, teachers, lawyers, judges, professors, businessmen, artists, etc.[citation needed] Many of those who had to stay lost their jobs or lost their rank. Sometimes those jobs were given to unskilled and even untrained personnel. This deprived the country of many of its brightest minds, and also of a very capable workforce.[citation needed]. However, this was done to keep Spain's citizens consistent with the ideals sought by the FET y de las JONS and Franco.

World War II years (1939–1945)

In September 1939, World War II broke out in Europe. After the collapse of France in June 1940, Spain adopted a pro-Axis non-belligerency stance (for example, it offered Spanish naval facilities to German ships), and returned escaping Allied servicemen and fleeing resistance fighters to the Nazis, returning the favour paid by the Nazis when they had contributed forces including the Stuka dive bombers to support Franco and the Nationalists during the Civil War.

Adolf Hitler met Franco in Hendaye, France (23 October 1940), to discuss the Spanish entry in the war joining the Axis. Franco's demands (food, military equipment, Gibraltar, French North Africa, etc.) proved too much and no agreement was reached.

Contributing to the disagreement was an ongoing dispute over German mining rights in Spain. Some historians argue that Franco made demands that he knew Hitler would not accede to in order to stay out of the war. Other historians argue that he simply had nothing to offer the Germans. Franco did send volunteer troops to fight communism joining the Axis armies on the Eastern Front against the Soviet Union. The unit name was the División Azul, or Blue Division, after the Falange's party color, whose members were known as 'blueshirts'. Franco returned to complete neutrality in 1943, when the tide of the war had turned decisively against Germany. However, Fulgencio Batista of Cuba, despite the Cuban armed forces not being greatly involved in World War II, had suggested a joint U.S.-Latin American assault on Spain in order to overthrow the Franco regime.[5]

Isolation (1945–1953)

After the war, the Allies used Spain's ties to the Axis powers to keep it from joining the United Nations. Franco's government was seen, especially by Soviet countries but also by the Western allies, to be a remnant of the central European fascist regimes.[citation needed] Under these circumstances, a UN resolution condemning Franco's government followed. The resolution encouraged countries to remove their ambassadors in Spain, and established the basis for measures against Spain if the government remained authoritarian. Only neighbouring Portugal, Ireland and a few Latin American, Arabian and Asian countries, refused to comply with this advice.

The consequence of all of this was the establishment of an embargo against the Francoist regime in 1946 — including the closure of the French border — with very little success, as it boosted support for the regime. The isolation was represented by Franco's regime as a modern version of the Black Legend, with the most fanatical partisans claiming it was a machination of Jews and Freemasons against Catholic Spain. (Historian Vicente Carcel Orti asserts that anticlerical Freemasons had in fact played a large part in the anti-Catholic acts of the prior Republican government since they held key government positions, including at least 183 deputies in the Cortes (the Spanish parliament), and thus were instrumental in the making of anti-Catholic laws.[6]) This impression of machination helped to rally significant popular support for the regime such as the large scale 1946 demonstration held in Madrid. In 1947, the president of Argentina, Juan Perón, ignored the UN embargo and sent his wife Eva Perón (Evita) with much needed food supplies. The Spaniards, and Franco himself, heartily welcomed Evita.

After World War II, the Spanish economy was still in disarray. Rationing cards were still used as late as 1952. War and economic isolation prompted the regime to move towards autarky, a movement warmly welcomed by Falangists. The tenets of the economy were: reduction of imports, self-sufficiency, state-controlled production and commercialization of first order goods, state-funded industry and construction of infrastructure — heavily damaged during the Civil War — through the use of improvised means.

In other aspects the regime continued showing its heavy-handedness when it withdrew the press credentials of six U.S. reporters in 1951.[7]

The end of isolation (1953–1959)

Eisenhower and Franco in Spain in 1959

The increased tensions between the U.S. and the USSR in the 1950s led the American government to search for new allies in Europe. Franco's strong anti-Communist stance as well as the strategic location of Spain made the Spanish State a potential ally in the Cold War.

Spain's international ostracism was finally broken in 1953 when Spain and the United States signed the Pact of Madrid in a series of agreements under which Spain received some financial benefits in the form of grants and loans in return for hosting American military bases (such as Naval Station Rota, opened in 1955). The same year, the Spanish government signed the Concordat with the Vatican.

In 1955, Spanish wealth approached the pre-Civil War levels of 1935, leaving behind the disasters of the war and the struggle of isolation.[8] Spain was admitted to the UN in 1955 and to the World Bank in 1958.[9] Other Western European countries, including Italy, were from that point eager to restore good contacts with Francoist Spain.

Spain's gradual readmission to the international fold was given visible form with the visit of U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower in December 1959.[10]

The Desarrollo, the Spanish Miracle (1959–1973)

A SEAT 600.

The Spanish Miracle (Desarrollo) was the name given to the Spanish economic boom between 1959 and 1973. It is seen by some as the most remarkable positive legacy of the regime. During this period, Spain largely surpassed the per capita income that differentiates developed from underdeveloped countries and induced the development of a dominant middle class.

The boom was bolstered by economic reforms promoted by the so-called "technocrats", appointed by Franco, who pushed for public investment in infrastructure development, as recommended by the International Monetary Fund. The technocrats were a new breed of economists who replaced the old, prone to isolationism, Falangist guard.

The implementation of these policies took the form of development plans (planes de Desarrollo) and it was largely a success: Spain enjoyed the second highest growth rate in the world, just after Japan, and became the ninth largest economy in the world, just after Canada. Spain joined the industrialized world, leaving behind the poverty and endemic underdevelopment it had experienced since the loss of the Spanish Empire in the 19th century.

Although the economic growth produced noticeable improvements in Spanish living standards and the development of a middle class, Spain remained less economically advanced relative to the rest of Western Europe (with the exception of Portugal, Greece and Ireland). At the heyday of the Miracle, 1974, Spanish income per capita peaked at 79 percent of the Western European average, only to be reached again 25 years later, in 1999.

The 14 years of recovery led to an increase in (often unplanned) building on the periphery of the main Spanish cities to accommodate the new class of industrial workers brought by rural exodus.

The icon of the Desarrollo was the SEAT 600 (a license-built Italian Fiat 600) the first car for many Spanish working class families, produced by the Spanish factory SEAT or Sociedad Española de Automóviles de Turismo.

1969 also saw the Spanish government close the border with Gibraltar. Aircraft from Gibraltar were stopped from travelling to Spain or banned from using Spanish airspace. The border remained closed until the 1980s and air restrictions were only lifted in 2006.

Franco's last years (1973–1975)

The 1973 oil crisis severely affected Spain, and brought the economic growth to a halt. This caused a new wave of strikes (nominally illegal at the time).

Franco's declining health during the early 1970s gave more power to Admiral Luis Carrero Blanco, allegedly his caretaker and guardian of young Juan Carlos, the future king. Nevertheless, ETA was planning to assassinate Blanco, and finally, the commando led by Argala, after two years of work, exploded a bomb which was located in a tunnel dig under the road he used to drive every morning. The operation was named Operación Ogro and it was highly celebrated especially in the Basque Country and in the dissident areas of Spain.[11]

Carlos Arias Navarro took over as President of the Spanish Government, and tried to introduce some reforms to the decaying regime, but he struggled between the two factions of the regime, the conservative búnker and the aperturistas, who promoted transition towards democracy.

But there was no way back to the old regime: Spain was not the same as in post-Civil War times and the model for the now wealthy Spaniards was the prosperous Western Europe, not the impoverished post-war Falangist Spain. Additionally, a considerable number of Spanish men had worked in Western Europe in the previous years as cheap labour forces, thereby encountering the economic growth and wealth of other western Europeans.

Meanwhile, in Western Sahara the situation became increasingly difficult, with the Polisario Front fighting for the independence against colonial troops in one hand, and the Moroccan regime wishing to annex the territory to Morocco.

Led by Cardinal Tarancón and hand in hand with the reforms of the Vatican Council II, the Spanish Roman Catholic church had changed deeply by the last years of the Franco regime and could not be counted as supporting it anymore.

In July 1974 Franco fell ill, and Juan Carlos took over as Head of State. Franco soon recovered, but one year later he fell ill once again, and by late October 1975, he fell into a coma and was put on life support. After a long illness, Franco died on November 20, 1975, at the age of 82—the same date as the death of José Antonio Primo de Rivera, founder of the Falange. It is suspected that his doctors were ordered to keep him barely alive by artificial means until this symbolic date of the far-right.[citation needed] The historian Ricardo de la Cierva says that on the 19th around 6 p.m. he was told that Franco had already died. After Franco's death, the interim government decided to bury him at Valle de los Caídos, a colossal memorial to all the casualties of the Spanish Civil War, although it was conceived by Franco and has a distinctly nationalist tone.[citation needed]

Upon Franco's death, Juan Carlos became the King of Spain and immediately used his absolute power to transition to a democratic and constitutional monarchy. The Spanish State ceased to exist in 1975 de facto during the Spanish transition to democracy, and was officially over de jure after the Spanish Constitution of 1978.


After Franco's victory in 1939, the FET y de las JONS (formed in 1937) became the sole legal party in Spain, and then, in 1949, asserted itself as the main component of the Movimiento Nacional. Through a state of emergency-like status, the 100 member national council (central committe) of the FET worked as makeshift legislature of Spain until the passing of the Organic law of 1942 (Ley Organica) and the Constituting of the Cortes Act (Ley Constitutiva de las Cortes) the same year, which saw the grand reopening of the Cortes Generales on July 18, 1942.[12]

The Organic law stipulated the government to be ultimately responsible for all legislation of the country,[13] while defining the Cortes of Spain as a purely advisory body not elected by either direct or universal suffrage. As head of government, Franco was constitutionally in charge of appointing his own ministers, thus being the one source of legislation. The law of national referendums (Ley del Referendum Nacional), passed in 1945 approved for all "fundamental law" to be approved by a popular referendum, in which only the family heads could vote. Local municipal councils were appointed similarly by family heads and local corporations through elections, while the government exercised the exclusive right to appoint mayors.

The law of referendums was exercised twice; in 1947, when a law approved through a referendum revived the Spanish monarchy with Franco as interim regent for life with sole right to appoint his successor, secondly in 1966, to approve of a new "organic law", or constitution, supposedly limiting and clearly defining Franco's powers as well as formally creating the modern office of Prime Minister of Spain.

Colonial empire and decolonization

Spain attempted to retain control the last remnants of its colonial empire throughout Franco's rule. During the Algerian War (1954–62), Madrid became the base of the Organisation de l'armée secrète (OAS) right-wing French Army group which sought to preserve French Algeria. Despite this, Franco was forced to make some concessions. Henceforth, when French Morocco became independent in 1956, he surrendered Spanish Morocco to Mohammed V, retaining only a few enclaves (the Plazas de soberanía). The year after, Mohammed V invaded Spanish Sahara during the Ifni War (known as the "Forgotten War" in Spain). Only in 1975, with the Green March and the military occupation, did Morocco take control of all of the former Spanish territories in the Sahara.

In 1968, under United Nations pressure, Franco granted Spain's colony of Equatorial Guinea its independence, and the next year, ceded the exclave of Ifni to Morocco. Under Franco, Spain also pursued a campaign to gain sovereignty of the British overseas territory of Gibraltar, and closed its border with Gibraltar in 1969. The border would not be fully reopened until 1985.


Franco in 1969.