Sunday, March 23, 2008

Franco, and the colonisation of Spain.

Supposedly, when Franco was lying on his deathbed, he heard the noise of people gathered outside the window and asked his subordinates what was going on. "It is the people," he was told, "they have come to say goodbye." "Oh," he said, "where are they going?" This joke adequately reflected Franco's fantasy of his own immortality and the superfluity of the people in fascist ideology. It was, of course, expected that they should honour him, just as the British rulers of India expected natives to honour them, but it was really too much for them to expect him to regard them as anything other than objects for satire, even on his deathbed. The colonisation of Spain is the process by which a colonial military elite crushed the people, civil society and government of Spain by means of methods it had refined in the subjugation of Morocco, or rather that part of Morocco that had been a Protectorate of Spain - the northernmost territory including most of the mountainous Rif. It is by no means unusual for a fascist regime to be seen as essentially colonial in nature. Trotsky's Fourth International considered Fascism "a chemically pure distillation of the culture of imperialism". Aime Cesaire, the Martinican anti-colonial rebel and poet, famously ascribed the origins of European fascism to its earlier application to non-Europeans, as did Fanon. Enzo Traverso traces some of the origins of Nazi violence to the colonial era. Sven Lindquist's Exterminate the Brutes is dedicated to tracing the rise of fascism to the military doctrines and practises of colonialism. It is a connection made explicit by Hitler himself in his table talk. There is a significant and growing body of literature on the connections between the colonial experience and modern fascism, both in general and in specific - Germany's extermination of the Herero people in South-West Africa provided some of the experiential backdrop to the later Nazi programme of conquest and extermination, while Italy's colonial successes radicalised the fascist regime.

The colonisation of Spain is of particular importance to this story, because it is the prelude to World War II. The success of Franco combined with Anschluss (the annexation of Austria to form GroƟdeutschland) to provide Hitler with the basis for further aggression to the East. The war also provided the means by which Italy was subordinated to German foreign policy priorities - it was in exchange for Italian hegemony in the Mediterranean that Italy accepted German rule in Austria. Every pressure pushing toward war in Europe was channelled through Spain during Franco's war of conquest. I thought about writing this after reading Andy Durgan's brilliant, concise book about the history and historiography of the Spanish Civil War. It barely touches upon the colonial backdrop, never references it as an explanatory factor (so far as I can tell) and at several points refers to certain atrocities against civilians such as the terrorist bombing of Guernica as novel. Paul Preston's account of the Civil War is better in this regard, and there have been numerous smaller studies and monographs that admit this as an important factor, but I might mention that Sebastian Balfour's Deadly Embrace: Morocco and the Road to the Spanish Civil War is the best account yet. Replete with original research and sharp insights, I cannot recommend it highly enough (supposing you can afford the high cover price). I draw on it liberally in what follows, as well as a volume of essays co-edited by Balfour and Preston, Spain and the Great Powers in the Twentieth Century.

Spanish power in Morocco was initially the result of military penetration, on the one hand, and 'peaceful penetration', the injection of capital and particularly of mining capital in the north, on the other. Arising ten years after the defeat of Spain by the United States in Cuba and the Philippines in 1898, known then as the 'Disaster', and in the context of the 'Scramble for Africa', Spain's bid for a resumption of some world power status was frustrated by the manouevring of its imperial rivals, England and France in particular, and by the growth of a militant working class and an anti-military culture. Essentially, in negotiations with France in 1909, Spain was permitted a small 'sphere of influence' in the north of Morocco, dominated by the Rif, while France controlled the remainder. Later in 1912, they and the 'international community' agreed that the spheres should become Protectorates, and they awarded themselves the right to intervene militarily. On the face of it, they were committed to defending the rule of the Sultanate - it was pro-sovereignty imperialism - but in reality, the arrival of European troops and commerce both disrupted the delicate balance of tribal society and weakened the already limited grip of political elites. Although the commitment of troops to Morocco stirred mass public opposition, and even led to an anti-war strike in Barcelona when indigenous resistance against mining interests led to a military occupation to pacify the country, it encouraged conservative Catholic constituencies for whom the Reconquest against the Moorish infidel was still a worthy political goal. And, ironically, military disaster seemed to temporarily overcome public scepticism - both in 1909 and in 1921, when resistance inflicted harsh defeats on the Spanish troops, a temporary upsurge in militarism resulted. The political elite, mainly guided by 19th Century Liberalism, oscillated between the 'peaceful penetration' of the neo-colonial business lobby and the strident racialism and conquest policies of the colonial military, tending more and more toward the latter as the situation became more difficult.

It was during the 1909 conflict that the Army of Africa first hit upon the idea of using an army of collaborators, known as the Regulares, often drawn from some tribal elites opposed to the insurgent tribes. They also found that they could negotiate with local rulers, such as the leader of the Beni Aros tribe, the sharif Muley Ahmed el Raisuni, who proved to be the most extraordinarily untrustworthy native of the lot. Like the Krim family, which was initially pro-Spanish, he sided with Spain wherever he did so for pragmatic reasons, not because he was particularly happy with colonialism. Unlike Mohammed Abdel Krim, who would become famous simply as Abdel Krim, even his resistance was opportunistic and subject to change at a moment's notice. And unlike the Krim family, he was never particularly interested in modernisation. The Krims, while religious traditionalists, were modernisers in other respects who had hoped that Spanish capital would bring schools, hospitals and trade, and the eventual rebellion of Abdel Krim was in part due to the fact that this had proven to be a pipe dream - all the Spanish brought was repression. Abdel Krim began his rebellious career by aligning with the Central Powers in the Great War, and later took up arms himself. Raisuni was, by contrast, a thief and a vicious tormentor of his subjects, and his sole claim to legitimacy was during his periodic jihads against the Christian crusaders. He was also a brilliant diplomat who succeeded in conning the commander-in-chief of the armed forces Lt Col Manuel Fernandez Silvestre into believing that he was a loyal Spanish servant, not once but several times.

It was during this war also that a new colonial identity was formed that was increasingly opposed to the metropolis, especially among younger officers whose career advancement depended upon military action. The right-wing militarists were contemptuous of metropolitan business interests and the back-door deals that often excluded the chain of command, but neither were they content with a religious motivation for their war: for them it was a paternalistic civilising mission, a charitable attempt to break the will of an infantile race of Moroccans and subject them to Spanish education. In this, they had the enthusiastic support of King Alfonso XIII, who insisted on breaking lines of communication to discuss matters directly with officers. The resistance in the Rif steadily acquired the contours of a classical twentieth century anti-colonial movement. It was clearly familiar with, though no one elaborated, the guerilla military doctrine later to be espoused by the Viet Minh - if the enemy masses his forces he loses ground, and if he scatters he loses strength. Such was persistently a problem for the Spanish high command. In order to demoralise the resistance, General Alfau added to the usual run of scorched earth destruction of homes and cattle the decapitation of prisoners - a photograph of Legionnaires holding heads aloft was ironically later used by the Falange to claim that the communist International Brigades were beheading 'patriots'.

In the aftermath of World War I, the Spanish took the opportunity to try to take full control of their Protectorate. This initiative included the foundation of a Foreign Legion, proposed by Franco's comrade, Col. Jose Millan Astray, which would takeover most of the donkey work from ordinary Spanish soldiers. To the indigenous Regulares, it added impoverished recruits from across the capitals of Europe. And they also dispensed a great deal of bribery to get tribal chieftains on their side - this latter proved a serious weakness, for while bribery could temporarily keep elites on side, there was nothing enduring about it and nothing that could stimulate popular support. Therefore, any widespread uprising would inevitably pressure chiefs to reject the latest bribe and take up arms. And, of course, it was at this point that Abdel Krim started to form his army of jihad against the occupiers. It was precisely the money built up by the Krim family through mining contracts with Spanish firms that enabled Abdel Krim to bring about tribal unity, acquire some sophisticated armaments, and make the first step toward realising his goal of establishing an independent Rif republic. It was Krim's army that inflicted the most humiliating defeat the Spanish army ever experienced, the series of events from 22 July to 9 August 1921 known as the 'Disaster of Anual'. Following a series of extraordinary military victories, Krim was able to set up a professional police force and a government, administering justice on the basis of Quranic law. It was in this battle that the young Francisco Franco first demonstrated his zeal, but it was to no avail - Krim controlled most of the Spanish zone and was expanding into the French zone. It bears mentioning that Krim's troops were quick to reflect the brutality of the colonisers with the Spanish prisoners they took, many of whom were tortured to death in grotesquely savage ways. It was a heroic war, theirs, a genuine war of liberation, but even such wars have rarely been free of this kind of atrocity.

At any rate, the Spanish counter-offensive (which managed to recruit Raisuni) had the backing of an inflamed chauvanistic reaction domestically, and a growing consensus among the political elite that extreme measures were needed. These extreme measures included total war, chemical warfare, bombardment intended to kill everyone in sight, genocidal violence in short. When in 1923 the multiparty government didn't seem to be able to stem domestic discontent or support the colonial venture fully enough, a coup backed to a large extent by the colonial officer corps put General Miguel Primo de Rivera in charge. He was no fascist, however, and was incapable of keeping the support of the colonials because he regarded the Protectorate as itself a danger to Spain. His advocacy of chemical warfare was coupled with a policy of retreat that was unacceptable to the military elite. He came under escalating criticism from the officer corps, especially from Francisco Franco, who was nurturing superiors and even acquiring the sympathy of King Alfonso. When Rivera visited the Legion's headquarters, Franco gave the customary speech proposing a toast to a new visitor, and used it to attack Rivera's policy of retreat. There were supposedly a number of plots to depose Rivera, one of which Franco was implicated in, but Rivera would survive until he lost the support of the King in January 1930. In the meantime, the Spanish air force, using chemical weapons manufactured in contracts with German industrialised, pounded huge areas of the Moroccan land mass, slaughtering people and animals, destroying plant-life, reducing towns to rubble. Balfour has done some good work in exposing this, because it has until recently been submerged in various fragmentary reports, due to an intentional effort at obfuscation by the Spanish military. Although devised with the specific aim of extermination, this did not stop some arguing that the intent was 'humanitarian' - the aim was not to punish the natives, but to frighten them into their own senses, so that they would submit themselves to 'the educational work of Spain'. I would just point out that this is only one particularly egregious example - in colonial practise, the worst barbarisms were always justified as 'humanitarian', and they were indeed 'humanitarian' provided one accepts the viciously racist purview of the conquerors, just as slavery was 'humanitarian' and concentration camps were 'humanitarian'. Rather than put people through endless misery with progressively slender chance of reward, Krim surrendered at Targuist on 27 May 1926 - to the French, in fact, not the Spanish. The French colonists, as harsh as they were, seemed to have some regard for him and some distaste for the counterproductive repressiveness of the Spanish fightback. But actually, anyone who has read of the French repression against Abd-el-Kader and his supporters in Algeria, or indeed just a fragment of the British repression in India (to wit the imprisonment of 80,000 Indians in a prison in the Andaman islands between 1858 and 1939, all of whom were tortured or used for medical experiments), knows that Spain was no more severe than its colonial rivals.

The victory had some interesting repercussions. Having galvanised a colonial army, it left them with little to do but engage in corruption. It also left them alienated from a Metropolitan political and business class that was trying and failing to modernise. When the Left drove out General Damasco Berenguer and then won municipal elections in 1931, King Alfonso went into exile, and the short-lived Spanish Republic came into existence. Berenguer, who had tolerated the PSOE on account of its moderation (its leader Julian Besteiro was an admirer of the Labour Party), was caught by surprise by the party's participation in a rebellion against him - Besteiro had opposed the revolt, though he later benefited from it. The army, though it might have every reason to be hostile to a Republic, had made no attempt to defend Berenguer, and was sufficiently disenchanted to allow the Republic to exist. The ruling class was hopeful at any rate that the reformers would improve Spain's hitherto lamentable economic performance, even in the context of a global economic crisis. However, the PSOE in alliance with the left Republicans and the Radicals (middle class opportunists with a shifty leader), proved no more adept at modernising the economy than the previous elite had. In truth, they faced a great deal resistance from precisely the class that was supposed to benefit. They tried to rationalise the army, improve conditions for workers (especially rural workers), improve the condition of women, and build schools - only the latter didn't offend some constituency or other. Every improvement in the condition of workers was resisted locally; the army was not at all happy with the downsizing of its bloated officer corps (in fact, the PSOE had attempted to democratise the military by introducing conscription, but had crucially stopped short at extending these reforms to the colonial army); and women had plenty of enemies, not least the PSOE leaders who feared they would elect whoever the Church told them to if given the vote. In 1932, General Sanjurjo - a veteran of the Moroccan campaign - attempted a coup, and the following year, a right-wing coalition was brought to power, with its core constituent, the CEDA, aping the rhetoric of the fascist movements that were rising across Europe (they were going to 'save Spain from Marxists, Freemasons and Jews'). As reforming legislation was rolled back, and employers went on the offensive, the Left went into disarray. The one attempt at resistance was a general strike by the PSOE, which reflected not so much its radicalism but its determination to contain the grassroots with ill-conceived gestures. The strike was defeated rapidly in all but one region, the Asturias, where miners held out for two weeks against the army. It was the intervention of the Army of Africa under Franco's command, which used the Regulares to crush the insurgency, that finished the Asturias. Over a thousand died. As Balfour points out, the use of indigenous Moroccans would have seemed odd, but the workers' rebellion was seen as a Soviet-inspired foreign intrigue, and therefore the hardy natives under good Christian Spanish guidance could be of service.

Similarly, when the Left won the 1936 elections, with a much more radicalised activist population, it was the colonial base that provided the ground from which the conspirators - almost all 'heroes' of the Rif campaign - launched their coup. It was the earliest and easiest part of the campaign. I don't need to tell you that the response of the elected government was pathetic. Essentially, the task of resistance fell in the short-term to extra-parliamentary forces. On the other hand, had it not been for the rapid intervention of Mussolini and Hitler, the fascist army would have got nowhere - the lower orders obstructed the transmission of arms and troops from Morocco to Spain, and it fell to the two fascist powers to supply air lifts. Similarly, while the 'democracies' abandoned Republican Spain to its fate (notwithstanding some occasional efforts by Leon Blum), the fascist powers happily larded the Nationalists with troops and advanced weaponry. Germany's Condor Legion arrived in Spain 19,000 strong, while throughout the war Mussolini supplied a total of 80,000 men. They helped direct crucial aerial bombardment missions, and were more than a match for the International Brigades, who were increasingly subject to de-emphasis because they could be depicted as Moscow stooges. The Soviet Union's aid to the Republic, I might add, was brief and opportunistic. The evidence is plentiful that Stalin's relationship with republican Spain was manipulative rather than cooperative. He expected it to be bourgeois and nationalistic rather than revolutionary, and the PCE (Spanish Communist Party) helped promulgate that policy, with the calculated destruction of any revolutionary upsurge - since it was this spirit which had provided the backbone of the early defense of the Republic, it is unsurprising that the breaking of it destroyed the resistance. The Republic's gold (which was offered in lieu of cash payment for weapons) was underpaid for, and all aid was gradually shut off during 1937, by which time it had become clear that Stalin was considering a rapprochement with the Nazi elite out of fears for its own borders. Despite a couple of border openings from France through 1938, there was nothing coming the way of the loyalists. Franco had decided that he wasn't prepared to opt for a quick victory: his aim was a slow-burning success that would annihilate the Republic and all of its vestiges. In other words, he didn't simply opt for a military strategy, but for a long-term political strategy in which the basis for an alternative social order would be wiped out. He also tried out the Nazis strategy of Blitzkrieg which had already been attempted in Morocco - after all, this was the basis on which chemical warfare had been waged. He relied especially on the Regulares and Legionnaires, who always received at least 50% more pay than the regular Nationalist soldiers. The Spanish army undertook a stern enlistment drive among Moroccoans, but while the Nationalists made a careful pitch to the Moroccans, no such effort was made by the Republicans - who might have been expected to liberate the colonies in order to undercut Franco's base. They were so busy trying to put the French and British governments at ease that they could not possibly conceive of stimulating an anti-colonial revolt in the north of Africa. Instead, the Republicans used their airforce to drop shells indiscriminately on Moroccan towns. It should be said that the fascists had no intention of trying to recruit from the anti-colonial rebels, since they knew their chances were slim. The fascist General Mola instead ordered that anyone who had partaken in that rebellion should be arrested. The fascists recruited Moroccans on the basis that they should wage a Holy War for one of the world's great religions against atheists, Jews and Communists who were inherently anti-Muslim. Had the Republicans been anti-colonialists, this would have been exposed as a mirage: but they were not. In fact, the Regulares were used much as they had been in Morocco - to carry out the most dangerous, onerous work, while the Spanish commanders frequently watched from afar. The colonial methods of mass bombardment, repression, summary execution, torture and pacificatory 'total war' had been learned in Morocco and exported to Spain. And the Army of Africa, which would prove crucial in sustaining the war effort, was valuable for its elite experience in counterinsurgency, and would dominate in the iconography of the post-Civil War fascist regime. It is now known that the Spanish and Italian military compared notes on chemical warfare, that Italian troops trained in such warfare were despatched to Spain, and that tonnes of mustard gas and diphosgene were imported from Germany. Due in part to the overwhelming international scrutiny of the war, these weapons were not used. 350,000 Spaniards, of a population of 25 million, died in the war. Laws were promulgated effectively permitting the arrest of anyone who had ever been involved in any resistance, going all the way back to those who had been involved in the disturbances of 1909. Those captured were detained in concentration camps, with up to 270,000 in the camps by the time the war had finished. Just as in Morocco, prisoners who were not executed were kept barely alive and worked close to death. Slave labour fulfilled an economic function for the new fascist oligarchy. Women were thrown back into their pre-Republican status, and Catholic-inspired legislation ensured that girls would be educated separately to prepare them for domestic servitude. Women who were imprisoned suffered abuse and had their children taken from them, so that the young ones could benefit from Spanish education by being sent to Catholic-run orphanages. Workers conditions were degraded immediately, with the reimposition of low wages, long hours and severe discipline. In the prevailing conditions, people died 'like flies', particularly those whose Republican sympathies ensured that they had their property sequestered. The only way to survive was to have ties to one element of the ruling coalition, or to blindly submit to the new work regime. In all, 200,000 people died immediately following the war due to the disease and starvation that the new conditions unleashed. That was the colonial legacy.

By early 1939, the Republic was lost. There remained some rebel fighters, but the International Brigades were sent home, and the Republic surrendered. The British ruling class, who had always hoped for a Franco victory, recognised the new government founded by the fascists without missing a step. It is worth recalling that there was no real sense in which Britain's war against Nazi Germany was anti-fascist. Hitler had been encouraged against the communists and, as Paul Hehn shows, sicced on them several times. When Britain did eventually turn against Hitler, it tried to have Franco and Mussolini on its side, not Republicans and democrats. Hitler, whom the British had tried to give a free hand in the East, was now about to build his own India. He would annihilate the Jews, annihilate half the Russians and enslave the other half, get rid of the communists and homosexuals and mentally ill others who did not exalt the racial ideal. On behalf of an alien elite, which called itself Aryan on the basis of racial theory developed during to the British subjugation of India, Hitler would try to found a new empire. How much he admired England; how much he would have Germany be like it. Italy had hoped to turn Spain into an economic colony, but in fact it had become an offshore colony of the Army of Africa, the ruthless military dictatorship of northern Morocco.

Consider camouflage. Just as in Nazi Germany, the indigenous Spanish reverted to subterfuge and disguise. Anti-Nazis in Germany wore the regalia and signals of Nazi resurgence, pretending to be pro-Nazi. They were waiting, and holding on, hoping for something better, hoping their pretense didn't transmute into a reality. The Nazi regime was well aware that this was so, and even after almost a decade of state propaganda, they had to rely on extensive welfare systems in Germany, funded by the plunder of the colonies (see Gotz Aly, Hitler's Beneficiaries). The intensive indoctrination programmes could only go so far. In a like manner, socialists in Spain abandoned the militias for safety of work, home and fatherland. They adopted the outward signs of deference. Perhaps they would even make some money in the short-term, and eventually find the means to build an independent republic. The regime was an alien one, a colonial one, with no legitimacy. It was unfair, but it seemed to have won for the time being. Spain, like Morocco, had been subject to Reconquest.