Why did Franco stay in power in Spain so long?

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Why did Franco stay in power in Spain so long?

Pertaining to the time period surrounding the Second World War, Franco was able to maintain power by making the publicly favourable decision not to enter the war. Commencing shortly after the Spanish civil war, the Second World War came at a time when the Spanish army and public were militarily drained – both emotionally and economically – and lacked the inclination to battle following the intense period of violence that had just occurred. While this may have been an influence in Franco’s decision not to go to war, it was greatly compounded by the fact that, following the Spanish Civil War, the nation’s economy was in ruins due to its flagrant spending during this period. Furthermore, Franco’s decision not to go to war was appreciated by the Spanish population because going to war would have left the Canary Islands vulnerable to British invasion. Franco’s maintenance of power during the Second World War period was chiefly due to his sensible decision making – given the economic and emotional state of the populous – which prioritized Spain’s economic recovery.

During the Cold War the United States established a diplomatic and trade alliance with Spain, due to Franco's strong anti-Communist policy. This was in 1953, $226 million in aid and military equipment in return for us of 3 air bases and naval facilities. This treaty was renewed in 1963 when it was stated that any threat to Spain would be a ‘common concern’ to the USA. This aid and support contributed to Franco’s lengthy regime.

Censorship in Spain was not an anomalous phenomenon but constituted part of a general policy of physical and intellectual oppression. Franco sought to achieve his ultimate goal of allowing economic development to take place while preventing this from leading to political progress. Francoist oppression was intended for the complete eradication of all progressive intellectual heritage through the correction of literary production by the State, which dominated the previous progression of socialization. State financed new publication and prevented the creation of independent ones. Often times, those who wrote for the publications under Franco belonged to the censorial hierarchy established by Franco; this consequently affected and skewed the mindsets of the Spanish youth.

Some of Franco's policies produced positive economic progress. His principal policy for an autarkic and self-sustaining economy, rooted in both his fascist ideology as well as the impracticality of foreign trade due to the conflicts, which just had concluded, helped prepare the country for an industrial alteration. Spain saw moments of short run success; the productivity of industrial products significantly increased within the 1950s and, with regards to social prosperity, the stimulated economic growth improved national income and wages. The areas that benefited the most from the period of Spanish industrialization were the urban areas; due to the redirected focus away from agriculture, the farming profession became unpopular and such workers emigrated to work in more industrial-related jobs in the late 1950s.

However, such policies were difficult to sustain in the long run. Unable to maintain its progressive industrial expansion through autarkic means, Spain was forced to import a lot of the machinery from other countries and created an undesired imbalance in trade. By the late 1950s, Franco's economy began to fall apart as it experienced bankruptcy and higher prices for goods due to growing inflation. Unable to follow through with his autarky economic policy, he created a board of economic advisors in an attempt to stabilize the inflation problem.

Despite growing dissent, which severely damaged the Franco regime, Franco still managed to stay in power for an extended amount of time due to suppressed opposition. The support given by the Hitler and Mussolini regimes meant more supplies for Franco and the Nationalists in the long run. On the other side, the opposition was also weak in such a way that the communist and socialists failed to keep their operations underground, thus being weeded out by the Nationalists was made easier. The cause of weak opposition also was due to the fact of Franco's obsolete rule, which meant purging the Spanish society.

Why did Franco stay in power for so long?

Thesis statement: Franco’s stayed in power so long because he was internationally isolated, eliminated opposition, and population found themselves in a better situation than pre-Franco.

Background information: 36 years in power (1939-1975). When he came to power and the circumstances he came into power. Came into power in 1939 and then died in 1975. He was a right-wing dictator. What he did in the 36 years (stayed out of war and Cold War), tried to improve Spanish economy, and regime of single party state.

Franco’s regime stayed in power for so long because Franco was convinced that if he joined World War II with his now run down and divided army, the Spanish economy would further digress with a disruption with international trade which would lead to a slower economic recovery, and Spain would run the risk of losing the Canary Islands to Britain. The Spanish Army suffered greatly from the outbreak of the Spanish Civil war in 1939 and was not able to supply much aid to Spain’s allies. The Spanish military was corrupt and divided. Franco’s choice to stay militarily uninvolved in World War II helped fix the military helped him stay in power in Spain. The state of the Spanish economy after the Spanish Civil War was not suitable for the country to be involved in World War II. The Spanish economy was under a severe depression from the spending done in the Spanish Civil War. If Spain participated and sided with the Allies, international trade would be greatly affected. Gold and foreign exchange reserves were used up after the Civil War and the industrial and agricultural development was difficult. After the Civil War, supplies needed to help raise the economy and trade was unavailable. Eventually Franco adopted a policy of economic self-sufficiency. Ultimately, if Spain had participated in the Second World War, then the risk of losing the Canary Islands to Britain would be high. Britain wanted to seize the islands and use it as a military base. The Canary Islands were used as a stopover for Spanish military, and if given to Britain, would leave Spain vulnerable to attack. If Franco had joined World War II, the Spanish economy would suffer alongside the slow development of the military, and risk losing the Canary Islands to the British. These factors helped Franco stay in power.

The success of Franco's retention of power was due largely in part to the atmosphere in Europe toward the end of WWII. At the end of world war two, even discontented civilians knew that Franco represented unity in a time of great internal strife. If they had chosen to depose him while he was weak, anarchy would then ensue. Additionally, the world had much larger problems on it's plate than deal with the dictator from a small insignificant country. This enabled Franco to isolate himself and maintain control over the country. Domestically, military support never faltered during the entirety of his regime, this was key in maintaining internal support as the people feared another civil war. The support of the Catholic church meant that Franco had the support of the lower/middle classes which was another factor that allowed him to prevent being thrown out of power. Franco represented solidarity in a time of disunity for not only the Spanish people combined with the support of the military and the ignorance of the superpowers toward Franco allowed him to maintain power.

Although the big three agreed not to recognize Franco’s regime, causing other countries to establish new diplomatic relations with Spain, Franco used this to justify his authoritarian regime. His dictatorship, which lasted for over 40 years until 1975, was compared to fascism. Due to the fact that he was against socialism, gained him numerous international allies during the Cold war. However, the main reason as to why his regime stayed in power for so long was due to the conflicts between the coalition groups. These coalition groups, including the Catholic church and the army, secured his own position as a leader. In addition, Franco establishes an ‘organic democracy,’ which meant that no one could vote against his government. His control over the media also boosted both Franco’s image and his way of ruling. Other countries were unwilling to resign Franco because they didn’t see him as a threat. The fear of Stalin’s influence on Spain, when Franco were to be resigned, would cause a greater world conflict. His non-intervention also helped Franco to stay in power. Another reason would be Franco’s control on Spain itself. Due to the fact that the Catholic church supported his regime, their influence on Spain’s education, had a significant impact on Franco’s regime. His propaganda was a success. The last reason is due to his personality. Unwilling to step down, his determination and charisma added to his overall image.

The militaristic and authoritarian regime of Franco lasted from the victory of the Nationalists in 1939 in the Spanish Civil War to the death of Franco in 1975. Traditionally, the economic policies of Spain have been protectionist and its leaders sought economic self-sufficiency, requiring a large agricultural sector. This policy was, in part, continued by the Franco administration through autarky. It can be said on many levels that a big reason for the survival of Franco’s administration, at least economically, was because of public support (more jobs due to the protection of domestic interests and self-sufficiency), foreign assistance, and Franco’s leadership at crucial times. All of these were said to have increased Franco’s influence and his popularity in Spain.

During the 1940s, Spanish economic policy was aimed at self-sufficiency, both because of the regime's quasi-Falangist ideology of independent self-development and because of the virtual impossibility of broadening foreign trade and gaining outside assistance under conditions of world war and international ostracism (due to the world views of Franco’s regime). As a result of this, Franco organized the economy under a structure of national syndicates, with separate organizations for workers and employers. This state labor system provided jobs for workers and set “a rigid series of controls over the entire economy, setting prices, wages, allocation of supplies, and import quotas.” Many jobs were generated for a majority of the Spanish people and the revitalization of the agricultural and industrial sectors were emphasized. Industrial expansion in this period proceeded even more rapidly than had been planned, and during most of the 1960s, Spain had the highest industrial growth rate in Europe. The self-sufficiency policies of the Spanish economy enabled it to concentrate on developing and revitalizing its industries at home as well as providing jobs for the Spanish people. Spanish historian Enrique Florez mentions that the Spanish economy experienced, “a growth spurt in the first three years of the decade.” However, there were some repercussions to this as well. According to Juan Pando, a specialist in Spanish history, “Spanish agriculture still remained technologically backward even though between 1940 and 1964, the number of tractors in Spain increased from 5,300 to 130,000. This was actually only a medium rate for a developing country.” Antonio Tordesillas, a revisionist historian, puts forward another interpretation that it was the “massive flow of emigration to jobs in the more industrialized European countries that allowed the economy to prosper and provided the funds for national development.”

Franco expected to lead Spain to a position of renewed influence in foreign affairs, and adopted the vague Falangist rhetoric about "the return to empire." In the post-WW2 years, Franco endeavored to seek help for his economic reforms and projects at the international level, going to countries such as Argentina, the United States, and later, the European Community. The bilateral Spanish-American Pact in 1953, which established a ten-year agreement for the construction and use of three American air bases and one naval base in Spain, provided for American military and economic assistance. The Argentine government of Juan Peron also provided Spain with crucial economic support. Economic pacts such as this provided vital materials and money to support Franco’s policies. A visit by Spain's foreign minister to the Middle East resulted in a variety of economic and cultural agreements as Spain had not recognized Israel yet. In the 1970s, a Trade Preference Treaty between Spain and the EC was signed, allowing increased trade from the rest of Europe. However, according to historian Irving Werstein, this dependence on foreign goods and assistance was said have hurt the Spanish economy since export in the economy remained weak and was only limited to foods and raw materials--a steadily unfavorable trade balance persisted in the postwar period.” Furthermore, deficit state financing, such as for the National Institute of Industry (INI), bankrupted the Spanish state by 1957 and continued development and the exchange balance depended heavily on continued foreign investment. While Franco’s foreign support enabled him to progress domestically and help Spanish industry, Spanish development at the beginning of the 1970s continued to be somewhat precariously dependent on the international economy.

Franco, though relatively unsophisticated in economics, realized the need for economic change when necessary, in a move to further jump-start domestic programs. To lead the reorientation, he selected economists and administrators who were members of the new Catholic secular institute, Opus Dei, several of them occupying the key financial, commercial, and economic posts in the new cabinet. These officials implemented a form of state-coordinated, neoliberal market economy that involved drastic reduction of government economic controls, coupled with the Stabilization Plan of 1959 to halt runaway inflation. The latter was an unqualified success and led to greatly increased economic expansion. The new program emphasized Europeanization of the economy, with greater international cooperation and major new opportunities for foreign (especially American) investment in Spain, though greatly restricted. To stimulate and coordinate economic growth, the new economic leadership prepared a system of integrated public-private planning, based on that of France under the Fourth and Fifth Republics. These reforms produced a surge in economic development, with Spanish workers were allowed to work in Germany and other western European countries and the pay they sent home was an important benefit for the Spanish economy. The decade of the 1960s opened a relatively prosperous era of mass consumption and greatly increased living standards for most Spaniard, improving public opinion of Franco. By 1970, the per capita income of the thirty-three million inhabitants of Spain was between $700 and $800, which, according to many historians, “helped calm and pacify any coup attempts and discontented groups from raging against Franco’s government.” However, historian Gualberto Fabricio de Vagad also maintains that a contributing factor to the length of Franco’s regime was his own propaganda which was able to influence a majority of the Spanish population of his “successful” programs through the media -- these “displayed the optimism that government leaders hoped for a revitalization of the Spanish economy during the next five years.”


Franco’s economic reforms saw limited successes because of the various circumstances it was faced with, including Spain’s isolation and many unsuccessful long-term domestic reforms. Foreign investments and autarky helped to an extent in providing jobs and increasing investment in Spanish industry; however, it is said that Franco’s portrayal of the “success” of the economy and his leadership played a much greater role in solidifying his position and encouraging more positive public opinion even though this was not always the case. The Spanish economy was indeed developing during Franco’s regime and its successes albeit short and temporal were key factors to the maintenance of Franco’s power.

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