The Francoist State: Formation, Ideology, and Social Foundations

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The Formation of the Francoist State (1939-1959)

1. Change of Regime

- The failure of the military coup of 1936 undertaken by part of the Spanish army: some right-wing politicians, the Falange, and Carlism led to a civil war that ended in March 1939 with the victory of the rebels.

- Rebels organized a technical committee in Burgos as a provisional government, and Franco was appointed as head of state.

- These events resulted in 40 years of Franco dictatorship.

Ideological-Political Foundations

2.1 Ideological-Political Foundations

- Political ideology was not important because Franco saw himself as sent by God to save Spain from parliamentary democracy.

- He established a personalist, authoritarian, and militarist dictatorship in which he held unlimited/unrestricted powers.

- The army gave him security; the Catholic Church and the National Movement gave him legitimacy.

- He accepted Falangism & fascism for self-convenience, needing the favor/support from the army and oligarchies.

- National Catholicism was restored as the official religion, and its morality was imposed on every sphere of life.

- The Church provided legitimization to the dictatorship and was a vehicle of Franquist propaganda.

- Strong Spanish nationalism (idea of a unified state, persecution of all nationalisms).

- Anti-liberalism, anti-democracy: Franco outlawed political parties, universal suffrage, constitution, and limited individual rights.

- National Movement was the only political organization.

- Organic democracy: popular representation not exercised through universal suffrage but through social relations like the family or appointed by Franco himself.

- National Syndicalism: labor organizations were forbidden; workers were obliged to affiliate with the single vertical union.

- Authoritarianism and militarism: the military forces remained loyal to Franco.

- Franco conceived society in military terms, so violence was the tool to maintain everything else.

Social Foundations

2.2 Social Foundations

- Political forces ("families") supported the regime.

- At the basis - the army (loyalty-security).

- Next - the Falange (fascist + Carlists FET de las JONS).

- Catholic Church and monarchists also backed him.

- Finally, the conservative upper classes, oligarchy, and Catholic middle classes - the mainstay of Franco's government.

2.3 Fundamental Laws of the New State

7 Laws: Labour Charter (1938) to regulate labor relationships, Constituent Law of the Cortes (1942) as an advisory body, Spaniards' Charter of Rights (1945) as a cosmetic move, Law on Referenda (1945) trying to make his regime less arbitrary, Law of Succession (1947) - Franco regent for life / appoint next king, Law on the Principles of the National Movement (1958) - right-wing groups, Organic Law of the State (1966-1967) - structure of an authoritarian system.

The Decade of the 1940s

Political Repression

Spain was divided into real Spain (conservatives, oligarchies, military forces...) and the godless anti-Spain (anarchists, republicans, nationalists).

500,000 went into exile. Those who stayed: 250,000 were imprisoned, the rest were in labor groups for public works. Between 1939-1945, more than 100,000 were executed. The republican intellectuals were eradicated.

Social and Ideological Severe Control

Strong control over the population, abolished all republican laws (marriage, divorce...), the Falange controlled the propaganda machine (in charge of censorship). Years of misery and violence made the population accept any system that guaranteed peace and stability.

International Relationships

During 1935-1945, Spain was devastated by the Civil War, so the nation declared neutrality, although it supported the Axis powers (Rome-Berlin-Tokyo Axis). The German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941 (USSR) was an opportunity to send the "Blue Division" with the idea of assuring colonial claims after the war. However, the Germans were defeated, so Franco stopped supporting Germany in 1944 in order to get petroleum and supplies for Spain. When Franco realized that the Allies were going to win the war, he tried to relegate/abandon progressively the Falange. For that reason, he introduced what he called "democracy" (Constituent Law of the Cortes, 1942; Spaniards' Charters of Rights, 1945, and Law of Referenda in 1945). Those were merely cosmetic laws, and despite his efforts, Spain was ostracized by the victorious powers. Spain was denied membership in the UN in 1946 because of its collaboration with the Axis powers.

Economic Policy: Autarchy and Interventionism

For a decade after 1939, the economy remained in a severe depression. In 1939, Franco began a program of reconstruction based on the concept of self-sufficiency/autarchy and state interventionism.

The Decade of the 1950s

The End of Ostracism: The Effects of the Cold War

The world became polarized around the power of the USA and the USSR, so American policymakers recognized the strategic importance of Franco's regime. In 1950, the US administration provided funds for Spain and worked to end the diplomatic isolation. The Pact of Madrid (1953) gave credits and donations to Spain in exchange for setting US bases in Spanish territory and with the idea of ending the autarchic economy. Other powers legitimized the dictatorship too; the Vatican recognized Franco's regime by signing the Concordat in 1953. Spain became a confessional state and banned public practice of other religions. Finally, the UN approved Spain's membership in 1955.

Economy: Towards the End of Autarchy

By the late 1940s, Spain needed food, raw materials, energy, and a financing system, so the autarchic policies were modified to obtain them. In 1951, the Law for Economic Liberalization was passed, and foreign capital increased industrial production in the 1950s, improving the economy and living conditions. However, not all "families" agreed on the new economic policies, with the Falange against "capitalism," but the technocrats (Opus Dei) were in favor of achieving fast economic growth.

Opposition and Resistance

In the 1940s, opposition was more important outside Spain. Many exiles joined the Allies to fight fascism with the idea of overturning Franco's regime after WWII. Many others organized resistance under the umbrella of PSOE/PCE in France. In the inner opposition, the "maquis" carried out the most significant activity, but they were easily eliminated. In the 1950s, strikes were mainly led by CC.OO (socio-political movement that became a trade union in 1976). The university became the main field for resistance and agitation, and the Basque nationalist group ETA political military was born in 1959.

Primary Source: Franco and the Catholic Church

The Catholic religion was very important for the Francoist regime, and it is the reason for being called National Catholicism, while Franco was called Caudillo by the grace of God. Catholicism was one of its main foundations, and for this reason, the privileges the Church had lost during the Second Republic were restored. Catholic moral was imposed, and many republican laws that went against it were abolished. In 1953, agreements with other countries ended Spain's ostracism, among which was a concordat with the Vatican. Then, it is also important to say that the Church favored economic development, especially the technocrats of Opus Dei. However, not all clergymen were in favor of the regime. The last event in which the impact of the religion was notorious is the passing of the Law of Religious Freedom in 1967, which was more tolerant and liberal.

Economic Evolution during Francoism

Throughout the Francoist regime, the economic situation changed. After the Civil War, Spain was in crisis, so Franco imposed some measures to make Spain self-sufficient. It failed, and hunger grew, leading to food rationing and "straperlo." To improve this situation, in the 1950s, the autarchic policies were modified through the Law for Economic Liberalization and the infusion of American capital. This improved the situation but also increased inflation and social tension, as the Falange did not want to open to capitalism. This shift toward liberalism continued during the 1960s through state interventionism. For this, the National Stabilization Plan (robust peseta) and other three development plans were created. This period of growth was called "desarrollismo." It finally ended in 1973 because of the oil crisis, which caused an increase in prices and unemployment rate, as well as a decrease in salaries.


Maquis was a guerrilla opposed to the Francoist regime, formed by communists, anarchists, republicans, etc. They originated at the end of the Civil War when they hid in the mountains sensing defeat. They carried out several actions against Francoism during the first dictatorship years, but they didn't make a big impact and were easily defeated.

Green March

Took place on November 6, 1975. Hassan II occupied Western Sahara, which was a Spanish colony. He organized a march of military and civilians to regain the lands. A week later, Spain, Morocco, and Mauritania signed the Pact of Madrid, and Western Sahara was left to them.

Development Plans

They were four-year-long economic plans that sought to overcome the state deficit and achieve economic development. These plans prioritized some sectors, offered loans and fiscal advantages to private enterprises, and created the Polos de Desarrollo. Spain experienced a period of economic growth called "desarrollismo."


They were members of Opus Dei and were in favor of increasing competition to achieve fast economic growth. For this, they introduced liberalizing laws, displacing the Falange, who didn't favor opening to capitalism, from the government.


It is the economic situation of self-sufficiency that the Falange wanted to achieve after the Civil War crisis. In order to achieve this, interventionist measures were needed to cut imports and encourage national production. However, it was a failure, and they ended up displacing the Falange, looking to liberalize the economy.

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