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Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives - vol06 (Page 5)

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Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives - vol06
Francisco Franco --
Profile of a dictator
by Paul Preston
espite fifty years of public promi-
nence and a life lived well into
the television age, Francisco Franco
remains the least known of the great
dictators of the twentieth century.
One problem, although not the most
insuperable, is to penetrate the
smokescreen created by his hagiogra-
phers and propagandists. In his life-
time, he was compared with the
Archangel Gabriel, Alexander the
Great, Julius Caesar, Charlemagne,
El Cid, Carlos V, Felipe II, Napoleon
and a host of other real and imagi-
nary heroes. Children's textbooks
described him as the messiah of the
chosen people. After a lunch with
Franco, Salvador Dali made the
entirely surrealistic comment, "I have
reached the conclusion that he is a
saint. That is to say, a mystic in the
tradition of the great Spanish mys-
Such frenzied adulation may be
dismissed as typical of the propagan-
da machine of a despotic regime.
Nonetheless, there were many who
spontaneously accepted these compar-
isons, and many others who, by dint
of their relentless repetition, failed to
question them. More remarkable is
the fact that Franco saw himself in
the inflated terms of his own propa-
ganda. His natural inclination to
compare himself to the great warrior
heroes and empire-builders of Spain's
past -- El Cid, Carlos V, Felipe II --
came to be second nature, and only
partly as a consequence of the fervor
of his controlled media.
These judgments of the Caudillo
and his propagandists are at the
other extreme from the left-wing view
of Franco as a cruel and unintelligent
tyrant, who gained power only
through the help of Hitler and
Mussolini, and survived for 40
years only through a combination
of savage repression and luck.
This view is nearer the truth than
the wild Falangist panegyrics, but
it explains little. Franco cannot
simply have been so untalented
nor so lucky.
The contrasting stereotypes of
the propaganda of left and right
explain virtually nothing of the
crucial historical questions: How
did Franco get to be the youngest
general in Europe since Napoleon?
How did he win the Spanish Civil
War? How did he survive the
Second World War? Does he
deserve credit for Spain's consid-
erable economic growth during
the 1960s? These are important
questions with a crucial bearing
on Spanish and European history
in the twentieth century and they
can be answered only by close obser-
vation of the man.
Franco was a brave and outstand-
ingly competent soldier between 1912
and 1926, a calculating careerist
between 1927 and 1936, a capable
war leader between 1936 and 1939
and a brutal and effective dictator
who survived a further 36 years in
power. The fascination of the man lies
in the contrast between the skills and
qualities required to achieve such suc-
cesses and Franco's startling intellec-
tual mediocrity and a personal timidi-
ty which led many who met him to
comment just how unlike a dictator
he really was.
Contradictions abound
The contradictions about Franco
abound and they are complicated by
his sheer longevity. The straight-for-
ward and impetuous soldier of 1916 is
virtually unrecognizable in the cun-
ning power-broker of the 1940s and
seems to have nothing to do with the
man who surrounded himself with the
trappings of royalty in the 1950s. The
difficulties of explanation are com-
pounded by Franco's own efforts at
obfuscation. From the age of maturi-
ty, he cultivated an impenetrability
aimed at ensuring that his intentions
were indecipherable. His chaplain for
40 years, Father Jose Maria Bulart,
made the rather ingenuously contra-
dictory comment that "perhaps he
was cold as some have said, but he
never showed it. In fact, he never
showed anything."
The strength derived from
Franco's cool and detached calcula-
tion was the corollary of the fact that,
fortunately for himself, he lacked
both the manic genius of Hitler and
the reckless impetuosity of Mussolini.
Nevertheless, that is not to say he
did not have passions and enthusi-
asms and obsessions. His hatred of
freemasonry was pathological; his
quest for pleasure on the hunting
field was unquenchable. Like the
Duce and the Fuhrer, Franco had the
power and conviction that come from
neurosis. However, there was less
about him, certainly after his eleva-
tion to supreme power, that was as
charismatic as either his German or
Italian ally.
Nevertheless, he had the capaci-
Paul Preston is Professor of
International History at the London
School of Economics. He is the author
of the acclaimed
Franco, a
(1993). His essay, The
International Brigades in the Spanish
This caricature of Franco originally appeared
The Volunteer for Liberty, Vol. I, No. 11,
August 23, 1937. We don't have the name of
the artist.
Continued on page 6

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