Another dictatorship in Spain? How much does history repeat itself?

I have written previously about Spain slipping into polarisation and totalitarianism and the prospect of a repeat of the past, military coups. If or when this happens, what can we expect exactly?

Spain’s army has not forgotten what went wrong during the 1936 coup attempt (or the coup attempt of 1981). The Far-Right factions in the secret service and the police would be used to neutralise government ministers first and foremost. Possibly there would still be a power struggle to an extent but not a protracted civil war, or the coup could simply go swiftly.

Question is what this would entail. Spain is polarised and the army leans mostly right but it appears there is a spectrum within the army and possibly even those who would be willing to commit a (counter)coup just as there was in 1936.

Francoist legacy

When the Civil War broke out, all the groups to the right of the Popular Front (except for the neutral ones) ended up being on the right faction. Republicans and different factions of monarchists, Catholic fundamentalists and anti-clericals, Reactionaries, Traditionalists Conservatives, Liberals and moderates.

Now however, the Right in Spain, specifically the liberal democracy sceptic right, or the radical/Hard/ Right is neo-Francoist to a varying extent. The spectrum is a of different forms of Francoism. The polarising communist-socialist government’s push to glorify their Popular Front predecessors and vilify and outlaw Francoism have only sharpened the battle lines.

While there are still neo-Falangists, Falangism distinct from Francoism is extremely marginal (incidentally, the Falange was a minor party that won few votes before the Civil War broke out). Spain has also had its own distinct neo-Nazi current but this is even smaller.

Francoism was primary broad authoritarian Conservatism, National Catholicism and flexible monarchism, with a distaste for Liberal/Western democracy without a true embrace of Totalitarianism or clear plans for an alternative system.

It was mainly defined by what it was against: Communism, Freemasonry, cultural Progressivism and disorder, as well as certain generic policies such as a defence of private property mixed with varying degrees non-socialist interference in the economy and Nationalism.

While Franco forced them to merge to form his one-party, neither the moderately anti-clerical yet culturally Catholic Fascist Falangists nor the legitimist traditionalist Carlists fully had their way in Francoist Spain.

Franco adopted the fanatical Catholicism of the Carlists only slightly moderated and with a bit more state influence over the Church then they would have liked. It was mainly his centralism and ruling as regent with a vacant throne and a one-party state that bothered them during the beginning of the regime.

While he mixed the one-party state with national syndicalism it didn’t truly embrace many of the Falangist revolutionary principles otherwise.

Franco’s regime in its early stages can be called a semi-traditionalist and semi-reactionary state that implement semi-fascist economics and organisation. But after WWII it gradually transitioned from being semi-totalitarian to more generally authoritarian regime and at first the Falangism was watered down and eventually the Carlism as well.

But the Catholicism, Conservatism, anti-Communism and distrust of Liberal democracy remained. Throughout the 1960s a faction of hardliners developed that refused to open up the regime more, alongside moderate reformists who wanted to complete the development of constitutionalism and introduce semi-democratic elements and even those who desired to do away with the regime and embrace full Western Democracy.

Since the democratic current either became regular Conservative or even Centrist, not much can be expected of them in the context of a coup. The first two factions (and their various shades) will prove decisive.

Both currents reject principled majoritarian democracy and would favour overthrowing a democratic Marxist regime.

The hardliners, those close to the Bunker, had rejected any move towards a multiparty system or even semi-free elections and favoured strong centralised power.

The reformists including Fraga had supported a strengthening of the separation of powers and a controlled (semi)democratisation.

Both currents still seem present in the Far-Right. Vox is likely closer to the Fraga reformist tradition but has expressed sympathy for those in the army who brag about hardliners who are neither constitutionalists or monarchists but Francoists (suggesting a hardline Francoism that has little connection to the current monarchy and is possibly even in opposition to non-democratic constitutionalism).

Which military leaders would lead and the international situation would likely influence which faction would dominate.

Vanguard Vox?

Vox would be the vanguard while the People’s Party (or part of it) would likely serve as the main moderate force. Unlike ultraconservative parties in the 1930s that were eclipsed once the Civil War broke out, they’re truly prepared for escalation and effective in utilising counterrevolutionary populism.

In spite of Spain’s secularisation, any regime with disproportionate Vox (and possibly conservative PP) influence would be strongly culturally Catholic, though more in the Integralist tradition than the Pope Francis variety (which appears to be imploding anyways) and culturally reactionary.

Vox has also pushed back against an inquiry into abuse in Catholic institutions organised by the left (which frankly is a ridiculous partisan attack since studies did show abuse in Catholic institutions only constituted 0.2 % of abuse cases in Spain and any abuse inquiry that singles out certain institutions while passing over others will raise questions as to why such decisions are made).

This is assuming the military wouldn’t completely supress all existing parties, which appears improbable since not even Franco did that immediately when the coup started and he ended up merging the two biggest parties on the Right during a time that one-party states were considered cool. Vox tends to be popular amongst the military and doesn’t pursue anti-party politics and a smoother coup and no long-term civil war would decrease the possibility of extreme radicalisation or a single military leader becoming an undisputed autocrat.

A collective military leadership taking governmental power and working in cooperation with the parties on the right is the obvious outcome.

The monarchy would likely be kept but with only a symbolic role for Felipe, unless he were to really cause problems. Vox and the right have no particular loyalty to the parliamentary symbolic monarchy (which has suffered from scandals anyways).

Spectrum of dictatorship

How far would it go in terms of suspending or abolishing democracy? If the coup is like the 1936 one and a full blown civil war breaks out a complete overthrowal of the current system and parliament seems guaranteed. But again, considering the right-wing sympathies within the police and secret service, a swift and/or partial coup seems more likely this time.

Would the army merely overthrow the government while keeping the parliament in place? Would they indefinitely dissolve the lower house to prevent it from holding a vote of no confidence? Rule without parliamentary control presidential style? This would entail passing laws by decree as well.

If the Socialist-Communist government fails to replace the Constitutional Court’s president before a coup, they Far Right would find a Court with an 8-4 balance in their favour. Leaving the court in tact and tolerating the leftist minority judges would deflect accusations of implementing a dictatorship. Similarly, the General Council of the Judiciary and the Supreme Court could be kept considering their current Right-wing status.

Far Right party Vox has and the People’s Party as well, have actually proposed strengthening judicial independence by restoring the system of co-option that existed early in Spain’s democratisation by having the members of the judicial council and Vox also want the constitutional court as a more independent section of the supreme court instead of a separate court with politicised appointments (though again, if the Constitutional Court keeps its current balance the need to reform it likely wouldn’t be too urgent).

As such they’re surprisingly supportive of firm judicial independence considering their flirtation with authoritarianism. This is (even more) ironically similar to the stance of to what is pursued by the leftist opposition in Poland.

Why is Spain’s judiciary so much more right-leaning than more firmly Catholic Poland’s? Is it simply because Spain’s judiciary function a right-wing dictatorship for over 40 years and Poland’s under a communist one? That’s just silly.

Furthermore, the senate purged of communists and extremist socialists would likely have 60 % of the remaining members appoint Vox candidates to the Constitutional Court and there would seem to be little reason to disband it completely.

Keeping much of the constitutional system even while overthrowing democracy would be useful for the dictatorship itself and for the people. If the senate, the judiciary, the constitution and most political parties are kept, it is easier to portray the coup as an emergency action within the democratic system.

Checks and balances are useful even for non-democratic regimes, both to support its legitimacy and to ensure the rule of law for civilians. Its a win win that can prevent escalation and lawlessness. It can also be a way to manage different faction and power struggles within a regime.

In conclusion:

Spain helped set the trend for the ideological clashes that formed a key part of WWII. It is a land of extremes and a relatively fresh democracy.

If it is one of the first Western democracies to fall, it might prove a trendsetter, for better or worse, for what a non-democratic era can be like.

It can also serve as an inspiration for Catholics and Reactionaries in a time that these are the most relevant in Europe they have ever been since 1968.

Ramon Giralt

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