Thursday, May 02, 2013

The Franco-Gorbachev Connection

Still absorbing Stanley Payne's highly rewarding Spain: A  Unique History,  I'm particularly taken by his (justly) long appraisal of the career of the dominant figure in Spain's 20th Century politics, the Caudillo, Francisco Franco.  It's way too to rich to summarize in a brief blog post  but a couple of points are worth noting.  One, per Payne it is  not true that Franco was a reluctant ally of the Nazis.  Payne undertakes to show that Franco was totally cool with the Nazis; the trouble was that his conditions for cooperation were too high.  Specifically, he wanted large chunks of Africa and Hitler didn't think he could give them away without offfending the French who, apparently, he felt he needed more.

And two, everybody, not least Franco himself, seems to have been surprised that Franco survived the collapse of Nazi Germany--not only survived but thrived for another 20 years.  He achieved this feat, on Payne's account, by a fabulous display of political trimming, as he struggled to fit old doctrines to new demands.  A particularly instructive comparison here would be Marshal Tito in Yugoslavia who also succeeded in reinventing himself and his ideology in the interest of survival.  On he evidence, one would say it was Franco who did it better, handing over power to a stable democratic state while Tito left behind a maelstrom.

The Tito example does indeed provoke reflection but I wonder another instructive comparison might be with Mikhail Gorbachev of the Soviet U-- pardon, Russia and the remnants of that rare political creatures, an empire that quietly and (more or less) peacefully disbanded itself.  One especially point of comparison:  apparently Franco thought/hoped that he could facilitate modern economy without abandoning the traditionalist authoritarianism that lay so near to his heart.  So in the same vein Gorbachev who learned only too late--or maybe never learned--that once you loosened the traces, there simply wasn't any place for the party any more.

Franco had plenty of blood on his hands--much more, I'd say, than Gorbachev.  Toss in the undisputed fact that he was a man almost totally without any personal magnetism or charm and you have a character who won't so much be remembered badly as not remembered at all.  But on balance he makes me remember the old Kentucky (mock) political rallying cry: they can go further and do worse and probably will!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

yugoslavia was constructed, spain was cohesive. when i think of spain it aint franco -- it's penelope cruz.