I am not a revisionist. My views on the character and actions of Thomas More and Thomas Cromwell have not changed in fifty years. Any reader of this website will know my views on Richard III, Henry VIII and Stalin. I do not have a good opinion of that Prince of Wales who became Edward VIII. I have never been fond of press barons, except perhaps Kay Graham of The Washington Post. Along with almost everybody, I do not like dictators, because they dictate how you must think and make short work of you if you are disobedient. There are plenty still around, despite two horrible world wars to discourage them.
Now, General Franco of Spain; there are difficulties and itchy problems here. I have read in English and Spanish plenty of biographies of Francisco Franco, and none was hagiography. Mr Paul Preston’s recent non-appraisal, that his subject was an ignorant and stupid man, left me with a persistent and nagging feeling that Preston had, possibly because of his own leftish political position, left things unanswered. If the General was so stupid, how did he rule Spain longer than anyone else in history including the Catholic Monarchs and Philip II? And he ruled creatively, as the subsequent history of Spain shows. His ministers invented Spanish coastal tourism, which now deals in tens of millions of tourists. He controlled the treacherous and unprincipled trade unions, introduced a system of national insurance, and solved the eternal problem of ‘the two Spains’ by encouraging and nurturing a prosperous middle class for the first time in Spain’s history. He engineered without bloodshed the consistutional monarchy of King Juan-Carlos I and his successors. Spain now has an economy more or less level with any other state in the European Union, again a historical first.
If one reads good histories of the dreadful Spanish Civil War (1936-1938/9) with concentration on the facts and not political dogma, in either language, one must reach the unescapable conclusion that morally speaking there was nothing to choose between the two fighting sides. Merciless battles between poorly armed men and women, appalling atrocities, the massacre of prisoners, a national bloodlust that separated whole families for generations. It is quite clear and entirely horrible. But Franco and his side won because they handled the economy better. The 2nd Republic gave away Spain’s entire reserve of gold to Stalin in the hope of Russian might opposing the real help given by Germany and Italy to the Nationalists. They were whistling in the wind. Stalin kept the gold (which Russia still has) and hardly fired a shot for the Republic. The Communist Party in Cataluña decimated themselves by murdering most of their internal enemies. Franco destroyed the Party in the rest of Spain, ensuring her reunification and making prosperity possible.
It is impossibly difficult to rule Spain, unless you are harder than any nail and do not notice the constant, carping, aggravating criticism shouted by lesser beings. Mariano Rajoy has proved this since he was elected with a good majority, defeating thoughtless Socialists. Rajoy is hardly human, he might as well live on the moon, but he is making Spain recover, slower than a sleeping snail, but succeeding.
vGeneral Franco was a small man in stature, with the mouth of an angry governess, an over-religious wife, Doña Carmen, who could only visit the bathroom if she attended Mass first. He was first and foremost a soldier, but behaved with remarkably good manners to foreigners. If he was a dictator, he must have been a benevolent one, and, or so it seems to me, he saved Spain from itself.