The twentieth century brought a radical reform of political systems in Europe, a trend of authoritarian and totalitarian regimes, with political mannerisms like the world had never seen before, was developing throughout the continent. The anti-democratic movement primarily fueled the drive for these regimes; however reasons vary from country to country. Totalitarianism involves total control of the entire state, and complete revolution of the society with ideological roots. Authoritarianism on the other hand, was more centered on the status quo and stability in political ideology; they typically involved limited pluralism and lack of neither intensive nor extensive political mobility. The policies enacted during and immediately following the Spanish civil war created the framework for the political system and the relationship between the state and its citizens for nearly forty years was created during 1936-1939[1] Also during this time period, the civilians of Spain were suffering under an un-wanted republic government, and ready to revolt. This came in the form of a three year civil war, during which the nation divided and essentially became two separate entities. Francisco Franco and the Nationalists claimed political power in Spain eventually, and held onto it for the next thirty-six years, it was a dictatorial regime that fit the characteristics of the rising trend in Europe. The purpose of this essay is to determine if there was an underlying totalitarian concept in Franco’s regime.

Totalitarianism is generally known as an anti-democratic, radical political system in which oppression is institutionalized. Jens Petersen accredited the first use of the word “totalitario” to Giovanni Amendola, an Italian journalist and politician, who used it when speaking of Italian Fascism on May 12, 1923.[2] The term totalitarianism has been used freely throughout the last few decades to describe many forms of dictatorship. Totalitarian political systems greatly stress the importance of the unity of the state, “everything in the State, nothing against the State, nothing outside the State”[3] and traditional values, such as the integration of church and state.

Without clear guidelines for what classifies as an actual totalitarian regime; each political theorist has different characteristics that in their opinions specifically exemplify totalitarianism, all are slightly different but generally agree on the fundamental principles required for a totalitarian regime. As in most dictatorships, totalitarianism was highly dependent on having an extreme centralization of the Administration, the use of terror and force, continuous movement of the society, the use of propaganda, the political system as a way of life, and the inclusion of the masses. The most common and well-known regimes classified as totalitarian were Hitler’s Germany (1933-1945), Mussolini’s Italy (1922-1943), and Stalin’s Soviet Union (1922-1953), as they seemed to have developed, in a similar way with common political mannerisms and ideals.

Franz L. Neumann, a left-wing political activist and Marxist theorist who later became a political scientist while in exile, centralized the German Reich while studying and characterizing the ‘Totalitarian State’ and based many observations on the course of that regime. In Neumann’s opinion, “totalitarian states were not concerned with legal conformity to the prevailing constitutional system, they substituted for legitimacy.”[4] He proposed the strength of a totalitarian regime is generated from state control of education, communication and the economy, and described the regime as “an order of domination and form of a people’s community.” It was anti-democratic because democracy, with its notion of an identity between the ruling and the ruled, undermined the necessary authority of leadership.”[5] Neumann stressed the importance of State control in every aspect of life, to even the most intimate parts. He compared this to the German Reich which established and maintained organizations for issues such as large families, bachelors, family-happiness and birth control.[6]

Authoritarian governments represent another type of dictatorship, quite similar to totalitarianism yet of a different caliber, they both include one party leadership, usually unelected, the nation above all else, and militarization of the society. Authoritarianism differs from totalitarianism in that only the government is controlled by the ruler and there exist institutions outside of those controlled by the state.[7] Hans Maier proposed that authoritarian regimes are interpreted as the products of their particular societies, of their histories and idiosyncrasies – ordinary dictatorships as opposed to part of the European crisis and they are mostly based on interests, whereas totalitarian regimes were based on passion.[8]

Juan Linz, a Spanish political scientist, claims that “authoritarian regimes claim to carry out process of basic modernization, particularly secularization and education reforms, to create the pre-conditions for democracy”[9]. According to his research, “authoritarian regimes are political systems with limited, not responsible pluralism, without an elaborate guiding ideology (but with distinctive mentalities) without intensive or extensive political mobilization (except for during their development), and in which a leader (or occasionally a small group) exercises power within limits that formally are undefined but actually quite predictable[10].

In 1936, Spain launched into a brutal three year civil war, which would unknowingly bring about the thirty-six year long dictatorship of General Francisco Franco. In July 1936, the country revolted against the previous republic after an unsuccessful attempt at a coup d’état earlier that year. The insurgents, whom were also called The Nationalists, were fueled by the Liberal Administration’s separation of church and state, the granting of self-government in Catalonia as well as a drastic reduction in size to army officer corps.[11] During the first two years of the Republic, the liberal-left pursued modernizing policies for political reform; a transition into secular education and increased rights, and benefits for workers and women. The military and their allies saw this as a vicious attack on property, social order and traditional morality, more specifically they believed the granting of autonomy upon Catalonia was a direct attack on the integrity of the state.[12]

Francisco Franco, a celebrated young war veteran, came out as leader of an indecisive party where most of the political forerunners had been killed or captured earlier. On September 21st 1936 Franco was named Commander-in-Chief with full military control until the end of the war, but Franco did not receive political power until a week later when it was argued that there was no sense dividing politics and military in a time of war[13]. The Nationalist cause was highly supported by both the Church and the Military, both of which had been personally altered by the liberal left. Between religious and military language the Francoist regime exuded a high personal, moral purpose for the war that played on existing anxieties and fears. Propaganda re-enforced the ideology that the Franco regime was necessary for any attempt to save the nation from eventual internal conflict and bloody revolution. Nationalist supporters brutally attacked anyone perceived as an actual or potential opposition; this demonstrates both the unity of the nation and reliant use of terror and violence as a political strategy, “While the authorities tried to prevent attacks in Republican Regions, repression became increasingly institutionalized in the Nationalist Zone. Cleaning up and purging were the euphemisms deployed to mask a grassroots terror of execution, imprisonment and persecution that was intended to destroy all possibility of the republic being re-created[14]”. The death toll of both military and civilians after the three year battle was estimated at 365,000[15],

On November 18, 1936, the German and Italian governments were ready and willing to accept Franco’s regime as the true legal system of Spain, and an entire German Air Corps had already been dispatched to Spain for military support of their revolt[16], this clearly satisfies Neumann’s requirement of a totalitarian state to be indifferent to legal conformity and substitute their ideals to be legitimate. Franco ruled as Caudillo, by the Grace of God, with unlimited and unrestricted power on political policies, he had the power to appoint and dismiss ministers as he pleased, and had the final word on all major political decisions.[17]He was appointed head of state on September 29th, 1936 and ruled Spain until his death in 1975; he was the central administration of the political regime.

Neumann identifies three main aspects of early twentieth century totalitarian regimes that seem to be unique in their mannerisms when compared to other dictatorships of that time; State control of education, communication and the economy.[18] The Press Law of 1938 which became an institutionalized norm, which introduced prior censorship regulation on all media including books, plays, newspapers, and in 1939 brought about readers which would police all public works, through the Ministry of Information and Tourism geared primarily at controlling public opinion in order to maintain the legitimacy and continuity of the state[19].This policy remained in place until 1961 when it was allowed a degree of liberalism in publications, however newspapers were directed to use ‘self-censorship’. During the Civil War, when the nation had divided, the Bank of Spain had divided also, (Nationalist and Republican) and two different currencies were issued for use. After the war, Franco’s regime was left to stabilize the economy and provide ‘financial reunification’, a new regulation of Spanish banking was enacted by Franco, the BSL of 1946, which renewed the monopoly on the bank of Spain, which had existed since 1874, so the Bank of Spain continued to be a private institution but in reality, the government gained complete control of the system[20]. In 1937, the FET developed twelve party bodies known as national delegations to cover every aspect of public life: propaganda and press, foreign affairs, social works, justice and law, youth, unions, women’s section, transport and communication, treasury and administration, information and investigation, and initiative and orientation of work of the state. This somewhat satisfies Neumann’s classification that private life be made a public issue.[21] Although state control of education was not a priority of the Franco regime, it demonstrates the majority of Neumann’s qualifications of a totalitarian state.

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Spain could relate with many of these “authoritarian characteristics” with a few limitations. According to Barbara Barde, a key discrepancy between totalitarian and authoritarian regimes is that with the latter the leader controls only the government, but in the case of Franco, he was declared generalissimo of the Spanish army. Spain was not a revolutionary dictatorship for the most part, the goal of the revolution was to eradicate democracy and return to the political structure of the past, Nagero stated “The concept of Hispanic racial purity was not a matter of skin colour, but rather the concept of the spiritual values present in the most glorious past of our ancestors – the golden age, the age of mystics”[22]. This reinforces Maier’s evaluation of a regime as the product of the history and idiosyncrasies, and their lack of revolutionary aims.

Linz specified three things fundamentally distinct about authoritarian regimes: limited pluralism, lack of guiding ideology and rarity of political mobilization. When he referred to “limited, not responsible pluralism”, he was describing the ability of outside groups to influence internal political actions, in the case of Spain; the Catholic Church was highly invested in the Franco regime due their part responsibility in establishing control. Catholicism in Spain had long been identified with the political and social quo of the country, and the rhetoric of the crusade helped to place the Francoist leadership at the front of powerful social and political coalition[23]. A new constitution approved on May 19, 1958 defined Spain as one nation, whose unique faith was Catholicism[24], “It is the core honor of the Spanish Nation to obey God’s laws, in accordance with the Catholic Church doctrine, the only true one, such faith is inseparable from the national conscience, faith which inspires our legislation.”[25]Although Spain underwent numerous policy and government changes during the three year civil war, after stability had been reached, the political mobility halted. An aggressive censorship policy that went into effect in 1938 stayed in place unnecessarily restricting the civilians until 1966. The Spanish movement once again was not an ideological revolution, it was an attempt at a return to past principles of politics, it did not strive to lead the world in political modernization. Spain exhibits the characteristics described in Linz’s theory of authoritarianism to a high extent, however this is not enough to classify it as a purely totalitarian regime.

Although Spain exemplifies the characteristics of an authoritarian regime; namely the lack of political mobility except for the period directly preceding the civil war, the Catholic Church’s influence and recognition within the government, and the fact that there was barely, if any, revolutionary ideology behind the movement. It appears that it also seems to fit the characteristics Neumann described for a totalitarian regime, in the sense of an all-embracing government, the Francoist state had total control of the nation, and Franco himself had the unrestricted and unlimited control over political policies. The civil war that created the breeding grounds for Franco will live on in memory for many years, it completely changed the course of Spain forever, it was in some ways a total revolution for the country. The movement began as an uprising against the current government, yet within two years and no valid input from the masses, Franco and the Nationalists declared themselves right, and all those in opposition were doing so illegally. Spain is primarily an authoritarian regime, as it has all the necessary characteristics, however on the premise of the power and unity of the state and by Neumann’s characterization of totalitarianism, Spain has an underlying totalitarian basis.

[1] Jean Grugel and Tim Rees, Franco’s Spain, (Great Britain, Arnold, a member of the Hodder Headline Group, 997) 1

[2] Jens Petersen, “Die Enstehung de Totalitarimusbegriffs in Italien”, in Manfred Funke, ed., Totalitarismus: Ein Studien-Reader zur Hernshaftanalyse moderner dictaterin, Vol. XIV of Bonner Schriften zur politik und zeitgeschichte (Dusseldorf: 1978), 117

[3] Benito Mussolini, speech before chamber of deputies, May 26 1927, Discorsi del 1927, (Milano, Alpes, 1927) 57

[4] Franz Neumann, Behemoth, (London, Frank Cass and Company Limited, 1944), 53

[5] Franz Neumann, Behemoth, (London, Frank Cass and Company Limited, 1944), 41-61

[6] Ibid., 368-369

[7] Barbara A. Bardes, Mack Shelley, William W. Schmidt, eds., American government and Politics (USA, Wadsworth Pub Co, 2010) 8

[8] Hans Maier, Totalitarianism and Political Religions Vol. 3 (USA, Routledge, 1996) 242

[9] Juan Jose Linz, Totalitarian and Authoritarian Regimes,(UK, Lynne Reinner Publishers, 2000) 173

[10] Juan Jose Linz, An Authoritarian Regime: Spain in Cleavage, Ideologies and Party Systems E. Allardt and Y. Littunen eds. (Helsinki,1964)

[11] Stanley G. Payne, Franco’s Spain(London, Routledge & Kegan Paul LTD., 1968) XIV

[12] Jean Grugel and Tim Rees, Franco’s Spain (Great Britain, Arnold, a Member of the Hodder Headline Group, 1997) pg 4

[13] Paul Preston, Franco: A Biography 2nd Ed., (London, HarperCollins, 1997) 177-183

[14] Jean Grugel and Tim Rees, Franco’s Spain (Great Britain, Arnold, a Member of the Hodder Headline Group, 1997) pg 12

[15] J.A.S Grenville, A History of the World (London, Routledge,2005)

[16] Stanley G. Payne, Franco’s Spain (London, Routledge & Kegan Paul LTD., 1968) 17

[17] Eric Solsten and Sandra W. Meditz, editors, Spain: A Country Study, (Washington: GPO for the Library of Congress, 1988)

[18] Franz Neumann, Behemoth, (London, Frank Cass and Company Limited, 1944) 221-440

[19] Maria M. Delgado, ‘Other’ Spanish Theatres: Erasure and Inscription on the 20th century stage, (London, Manchester University Press, 1997) 13

[20] M.A Pons Brias, Regulating Spanish Banking, 1939-1975, (UK, Ashgate, 2002) 55-56

[21] Jean Grugel and Tim Rees, Franco’s Spain, (Great Britain, Arnold, A member of the Hodder Headline Group, 1997) 16

[22] Aurora G. Morcillo, The Seduction of Modern Spain, (USA, Associated University Presses, 2010) 51, see also Nagero, Eugenesia de la Hispanidad 109-110

[23] Jean Grugel and Tim Rees, Franco’s Spain, (Great Britain, Arnold, a member of the Hodder Headline Group, 1997) 10-13

[24] Aurora G. Morcillo, The Seduction of Spain (USA, Associated University Presses, 2010) 29

[25] Juan Luis Vives, The instruction of a Christian Women, a Sixteenth-Century Manual, (Chicago, The University of Chicago Press, 2000) 3

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Cite this article as: William Anderson (Schoolworkhelper Editorial Team), "What is Totalitarianism? History & Ideology," in SchoolWorkHelper, 2019,
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