The Iberian peninsula has problems but no solutions, a state of affairs which is common or even normal in the ‘third world’, but extremely rare in Europe. For better or worse most states on our continent have a stable and potentially permanent economic and social structure, an established line of development. The problems of almost all of Europe, serious and even fundamental though they may be, arise out of the solution of earlier ones. In western and northern Europe they arose mainly on the basis of successful capitalist development, in eastern Europe (much of which was in a situation analogous to Spain until 1945) on the basis of a soviet-type socialism. In neither case do the basic economic and social patterns look provisional, as, for instance, the patterns of national relations within and between states still so often appear to be. Belgian capitalism or Yugoslav socialism may well change, perhaps fundamentally; but both are abviously far less likely to collapse at slight provocation than the complex ad hoc administrative formulae for ensuring the coexistence of Flemings and Walloons, or of various mutually suspicious Balkan nationalities.
Spain is different. Capitalism has persistently failed in that country and so has social revolution, in spite of its constant imminence and occasional eruption. The problems of Spain arise out of the failures, not the successes, of the past. Its political structure is nothing if not provisional. Even Franco’s régime, which has lasted longer than any other since 1808 (it has beaten the record of the Canovas era 1875–97), is patently temporary. Its future is so undetermined that even the restoration of hereditary monarchy can be seriously considered as a political prospect. Spain’s problems have bee n obvious to every intelligent observer since the 18th century. A variety of solutions have been proposed and occasionally applied. The point is that all of them have failed. Spain has not by any means stood still. By its own standards the economic and social changes of the 19th century were substantial, and anyone who has watched the country’s evolution in the past 15 years knows how unrealistic it is to think of it as essentially the same as
Raymond Carr, whose remarkable book probably supersedes all other histories of 19th and 20th century Spain for the time being, formulates the problem as that of the failure of Spanish liberalism; that is to say of an essentially capitalist economic development, a bourgeoisparliamentary political system, and a culture and intellectual development of the familiar western kind. It might be equally well, and perhaps more profitably, formulated as that of the failure of Spanish social revolution. For if, as Carr admits, liberalism never had serious chances of success, social revolution was, perhaps for this reason, a much more serious prospect. Whatever we may think of the upheavals of the Napoleonic period, the 1830’s (which Carr analyses with particular brilliance), of 1854–56 (which Victor Kiernan has now described with learning and his usual felicity of style) or 1868–74, there can be no denying that social revolution actually broke out in 1931–36, that it did so without any significant assistance from the international situation, and that the case is practically unique in western Europe since 1848.
Yet it failed; and not only, or even primarily because of the foreign aid given to its enemies. One would not wish to underestimate the importance of Italian and German aid or Anglo-French ‘non-intervention’ in the Civil War, the greater single-mindedness of Axis than of Soviet support, or the remarkable military achievements of the Republic, which Carr rightly recognizes. It is quite conceivable that, given a different international configuration, the Republic could have won. But it is equally undeniable that the Civil War was a double struggle against armed counter-revolution and the gigantic, and in the last analysis fatal, internal weaknesses of revolution. Successful revolutions, from the French Jacobins to the Vietnamese, have shown a capacity to win against equally long or even longer odds. The Spanish Republic did not.
There is no great mystery about the failure of Spanish liberalism, though so much of the 19th century history of the country and of its basic social and economic situation is too little known for excessively confident analysis. ‘The changes in the classic agricultural structure of Spain between 1750 and 1850 were achieved by a rearrangement of the traditional economy, by its expansion in space, not by any fundamental change’ (p. 29). (Carr’s explanation that poverty of soil and capital resources made this inevitable, is not entirely convincing.) What it amounted to was that Spain maintained a rapidly growing population, not by industrial and agricultural revolution, but by a vast increase in the extensive cultivation of cereals, which in time exhausted the soil and turned inland Spain into an even more impoverished semi-desert than it already was. Logically, the politics of
Under these circumstances the economic and social basis of liberalism and its political striking-force, were feeble. As in so many underdeveloped countries, there were two active forces in politics: the urban petty-bourgeoisie, standing in the shadow of the urban plebs, and the army, an institution for furthering the careers of energetic members of the same stratum, and a militant trade union for the most powerfully organized sector of the white-collar unemployed, who had to look to the state because the economy could not employ them. The ‘pronunciamento’, a curious Iberian invention whose rituals became highly traditional, replaced liberal politics in the first half of the 19th century.
In the second half it became ‘a speculative business enterprise for generals’ and in the 20th century it ceased to have any connection with liberalism.