Franco 1891-1975

THE DEATH OF Generalissimo Francisco Franco ten days ago was long overdue. For 36 years Franco subjected Spain to authoritarian rule, maintained by ruthless repression of all civil and political liberties. As much at the end of his reign as immediately after the Civil War, Franco prohibited all political activity outside the official apparatus of his regime, from freedom of the press to the right to strike. He punished offenders unhesitatingly with long prison terms, and in cases when he felt his regime endangered, Franco resorted to public executions, as with Basque separatists earlier this year.

Franco's entire career, from 1920 until his death, represents an unrelieved campaign against political and social democracy in Spain and elsewhere. His initial fame arose from his part in the 1921 war against tribesmen in Spanish Morocco. In 1934 the rightist Spanish government called on him to suppress an insurrection of miner's in northern Spain; his bloody tactics earned him the title "butcher of Asturias."

But Franco's real entry onto the Spanish scene came in July, 1936, when as the commander of the Army of Africa he led the "nationalist" rebel forces in their campaign to overthrow the legitimately elected Popular Front government of the Second Republic. In a bloody three-year conflict, Franco's armies, aided crucially by Hitler's Germany and Mussolini's Italy, overcame the underequipped soldiers of Republican Spain. Troops chanting the slogan "Long live Death" destroyed the hopes of workers and peasants for a transformed Spain.

Wherever Franco's armies triumphed, they lived up to their program, spreading death and destruction. When the civil war ended Franco ensured that there would remain no opposition by shooting thousands of prisoners loyal to the regime and imprisoning countless others. Since 1945 Spain has experienced the highest rate of economic growth in Europe. But Franco has not allowed the extensive new middle class and working class created by industrialization to participate in Spanish political life. The reins of power, today as in 1939, remain in the hands of hard line fascists in the army and the bureaucracy, committed to preventing social and political change by any means necessary.