On the night of September 12, 1923, the Captain General of Catalonia, Miguel Primo de Rivera (1870-1930), summoned four editors from Barcelona newspapers to announce that he was declaring a state of war and to deliver a manifesto with the commitment that they would not they could publish it until the next day. On the afternoon of the 13th, the Catalan press made the Manifesto known to the country and the army. That same night, the president of the Mancomunitat, the architect and lligaire leader Josep Puig i Cadafalch, accompanied him to the station. A good part of the leadership of the Regionalist League hoped that the soldier from Jerez de la Frontera would bring order to the streets of Barcelona and put an end to the clashes between unions and employers.
In Madrid, Primo de Rivera received the pleasure of King Alfonso XIII at his military pronouncement. In this atypical, bloodless and velvety way, a dictatorship began. Regenerationism, fight against caciquismo, maintenance of decentralization, responsibilities in Morocco... promises that made a large part of the population and the ruling classes receive it with good expectations. Others, like the then deputy in Cortes and separatist leader, Francesc Macià, were not fooled and went into exile. So would notable politicians and intellectuals such as Vicente Blasco Ibáñez or Miguel de Unamuno.
According to Alejandro Quiroga (Madrid, 1972), Primo was the first political leader in Spain to systematically use the right-wing populist discourse from power. In Miguel Primo de Rivera. Dictatorship, populism and nation explains how he made a banner of anti-politics, rejecting professional politicians, presenting them as a corrupt elite that acted against a "healthy people". Contrasting them with him, who governed for Spain and the Spaniards and who relied on the Patriotic Union, an alleged anti-party or apolitical party.
For nearly seven years, the dictatorship used regenerationist-style military nationalism to justify the coup, defending Spain from internal enemies such as Catalan and Basque nationalists, Restoration elites, Republicans, and all kinds of Democrats, while trying to educate the Spanish with patriotic principles. An unprecedented mass nationalization program was launched with nationalist indoctrination in barracks, schools, town halls, churches and popular festivals, points out the researcher from the Complutense University of Madrid.
In the first two years, Primo headed a Military Directorate that placed soldiers in all civilian governments and worked to destroy the cacique networks through the figure of government delegates assigned to each judicial district in the country. He also named his close friend, Lieutenant General Severiano Martínez Anido, as Minister of the Interior, an old acquaintance of trade unionists and Catalan supporters for his criminal repression in Barcelona in the early twenties and who would become vice president of the dictator. His practices continued.
Quiroga explains very well how, through propaganda, the dictator built a charismatic aura for himself, like Josef Pilsudski in Poland or Miklos von Horthy in Hungary in those roaring twenties and, above all, like Benito Mussolini. Primo admired the fascist regime that was consolidating in Italy, although he did not fully imitate it because he considered that Spain already had its peculiarities. For example, the Catalan somatén, which was extended to the rest of the state, and for this reason it was not necessary to copy the fasci di combattimento.
In the background, the war in Morocco, the bombardments with mustard gas and incendiary bombs of the Riffian towns and the alliance with France from the spring of 1925, which allowed the landing of Al Hoceima in September and the subsequent victory against Abd-el- Krim. For Francisco Alía Miranda (1960) the conflict in North Africa and especially the Annual disaster of 1921 was key in the rise to power of the Marquis of Estella. This prevented the Cortes from debating their lucrative interests, the implications of Alfonso XIII and the responsibility of part of the political and military elite in the poor management of the Spanish army in North Africa.
In his book The dictatorship of Primo de Rivera, 1923-1930, the professor of Contemporary History at the University of Castilla-La Mancha, explains in a very understandable way the foreign policy of the dictator, who went from being in favor of abandoning Morocco at all the opposite. The crossing of the interests of Spain with those of France, Italy and the United Kingdom in North Africa and, above all, in Tangier. As well as the alliance with Portugal, especially after the coup d'état by Antonio de Oliveira Salazar in May 1926.
The triumph in Morocco meant the zenith of Primo's popularity and, at the same time, the beginning of his decline. The image that the apologists drew of him as a countryman was, despite his fondness for drinking, women and gambling, very unreal. In December 1925 the dictator had already closed the Mancomunitat and the repression against Catalanism continued. He then created the Civil Directorate –the council of ministers reappeared– with which he tried to modernize Spain. This is one of the aspects that most details The Dictatorship of Primo de Rivera. The six years that cost Alfonso XIII the throne.
The chronicle by Gerardo Muñoz Lorente (Melilla, 1955) offers, year by year, blocks of information on Primo's political activity: Catalonia, public works, social legislation, Morocco, economic policy, student conflict, repression, reformism. If those of Quiroga and Alía are biographies of a more classic nature, here the author's long collaboration in the press is noticeable. More than a historical interpretation, what he presents is the state of affairs and the debate on crucial aspects of the dictator.
In the field of communications, in the seven years of the dictatorship, more than 500 kilometers of broad gauge railway and 400 of narrow gauge were built. The number of cars circulating in Spain multiplied by six – to almost 80,000 in 1929 – and 10,000 kilometers of roads were built. The number of telephones went from 63,000 to 212,000.
Infant mortality dropped. Spending on education increased by 36%, on health by 33%, on social security and charity by almost 50%. The actual base salary increased by 6.3%. Primo did not show a particular interest in improving the lives of rural workers, nor the situation of peasants in the face of landlordism. Instead, his protectionist policy benefited industry and the increase in public works and housing construction doubled the production of cement, iron and steel.
Related to this, according to Muñoz, the collaboration of the PSOE and the UGT with the dictatorship – taking advantage of the weakness of the persecuted CNT – was not premeditated, but the result of the desire to be useful to the workers. Alía, for her part, explains the growing gap between PSOE leaders such as Indalecio Prieto and Fernando de los Ríos, who opposed Primo, with the UGT, which from corporatism placed trade unionism above politics and the form of regime because the important thing was to advance in labor achievements. And that was the case until the end of the decade when both sides distanced themselves from the dictatorship. Alía also certifies that through state interventionism, one of the greatest achievements of the dictatorship was the economy, but at the same time the great dependence on foreign capital caused the crash of 1929 to affect it greatly.
Primo de Rivera's dictatorship would not have been possible without the acquiescence of Alfonso XIII. It is not certain that the king promoted the coup personally, but he did have proof that it was being plotted and that he let it be done. His motivations are discussed in The Patriot King. Alfonso XIII and the nation. Through the relationship between the monarch and the Spanish national identity, Javier Moreno Luzón (Hellín, 1967) explains how he acted and saw himself. A figure who tried to flee from the representative role in which a modern parliamentary monarchy would have circumscribed him and who, precisely, found the best opportunities to intervene when his governments entered into crisis. The professor of History of Thought and Social and Political Movements at the Complutense University of Madrid describes the royal evolution from a regenerationist Spanishism compatible with liberal projects, to seeing himself as a possible dictator – as would happen in Yugoslavia or Romania.
King Alfonso XIII began his mandate adapting to a stage monarchy, as happened in many other countries, becoming an agent of nationalization, with symbols, parades, exhibitions and all kinds of invented traditions. After the First World War, faced with the echoes of the Russian revolutions of 1917, the worker protests and the fact of seeing so many colleagues lose the throne, in addition to the disaster in Morocco, the king turned towards counterrevolutionary positions. Endorsed by Primo de Rivera, he increased public appearances "related to a Catholic and anti-Catalan, dictatorial and barracks nationalism."
The dictatorship, however, ironically limited his powers, more than the Restoration system itself, and paradoxically distanced him from a notable part of the population. When he got rid of who at another time he had called his "little Mussolini", it was already too late for the monarch. After overcoming several plots by the military establishment itself, in addition to the republican and separatist plots, Miguel Primo de Rivera resigned on January 28, 1930 and went into exile in Paris. He died feeling completely alone and convinced that the king had betrayed him. A little over a year later, Alfonso XIII would lose the throne and also go into exile, in Rome. Both had liquidated the Restoration regime and anticipated many aspects of Francoism.
For Muñoz, the Primorriverista dictatorship "can be considered a failed and bloodless trial of the authoritarian regime that a part of the Spanish right-wing yearned for." An iron surgeon, following the idea of Joaquín Costa, who wanted to carry out a revolution from above in the style of Antonio Maura to prevent the revolution from below. For Alia, over time, Primo lost credit. “Her words from him seemed full of populism and empty of content. The dictatorship, so popular in its early years, was suddenly forgotten after its fall.
Quiroga stresses, however, that "the fundamental principles of authoritarianism, militarism, the anti-Spain myth, the incorporation of fascist ideas and the sacred concept of nation remained as central elements of the primorriveristas' doctrine." And that contributed to the creation of fascism in Spain. The most obvious element is that of his own son, José Antonio Primo de Rivera, who defended the dictatorship of his father, and the similarities he found with Mussolini pushed him to found the Spanish Falange de las JONS.
The great specialist on this question is Joan Maria Thomas (Palma de Mallorca, 1953), who has published an updated edition of his biography of the fascist. Jose Antonio. Reality and myth comes the year of his exhumation – at the end of April of this year – from the basilica of Valle de Cuelgamuros. The professor of Contemporary History at the Rovira i Virgili University explains that he wanted to learn from the mistakes of his father to go further.
He wanted to be known politically and not by his last name, to lead a party that would lead the Spanish nation to its internal unity towards imperial projection. He wanted to break the liberal-democratic system to lead an authoritarian and dictatorial regime, not right-wing, but fascist, with economic forms that would solve social problems, in the face of communist and left-wing revolutions, and fighting nationalisms other than Spanish, like Catalan and Basque.
The legacy of Miguel Primo de Rivera was José Antonio, but not only. A century after his coup, editorial novelties show that the almost seven years of his dictatorship were not a parenthesis in the history of Spain, but the crucible of traumatic experiences that marked the country during the 20th century and of dangerous ideas that still have a powerful echo today.