In 1939, once the Spanish Civil War had ended, a military dictatorship was set up in Spain over which General Franco held all the power, as reflected in the Fundamental Laws of the Kingdom, where he was the Head of State and Government, head of the army and head of the only political party, the Phalange. The Franco dictatorship lasted for 36 years, until his death in 1975.
Francoism, the name given to the dictatorship of General Franco, was underpinned by three ideological pillars:
Traditionalism: an ideology which was conservative in character, characterized by the defence of institutions like the Church, the family, order and propriety.
Anti-communism: a rejection of political parties, especially those of a Marxist ideology.
The Catholic religion as the root of the Spanish nation, and centralism as the operational structure of the state.
In the first years of Francoism, all these ideological values were enforced by the Spanish Phalange, also known as the “National Movement”, which was the only official political party. The Phalange was founded by José Antonio Primo de Rivera in 1933. In 1939 it represented the political arm of the Franco regime. However, from 1945 onwards it began to lose political influence in the face of other groups such as the military, the traditionalists or the technocrats.
Concerning foreign affairs, the Franco dictatorship adapted itself to the evolution of the international situation.
During the Second World War, while Spain declared itself neutral, it clearly sided with the Axis powers, Germany and Italy, who had significantly contributed to the Nationalists’ victory in the Civil War. The Franco regime sent the Blue Division, made up of nearly 50,000 soldiers who aided the German army, to the Russian front.
Once the Second World War was over, the Franco dictatorship was subjected to a hard international isolation by the victorious countries. Unsurprisingly, Spain didn’t benefit from the Marshall Plan set up by the Unites States to finance the reconstruction of Europe. Neither was it admitted to the United Nations, which was created in 1945.
From 1950 onwards, the Franco regime started to be recognised abroad. The Military Alliance was signed with the United States (with 4 military bases established in Spain), as well as the Concordat treaty with the Vatican.
In 1955, with the admission of Spain to the United Nations as a full member, and with the visit to Spain of General Eisenhower, the president of the United States, the international isolation of the Francoist dictatorship came to an end.
The 35 years of the Franco dictatorship can be divided into 3 phases: The Post War years, the years of economic development and the crisis and end of Francoism.
In the first years of the Post War, a repression of the opponents of the regime took place, among whom figured a guerrilla movement, the Maquis, who fought the Francoist army and the Civil Guard in the mountains. Politically, even some key government positions were occupied by generals. In this period there was a severe economic crisis whose greatest manifestation were the rationing books.
Economic development took place in the decade of the 60s with the Stabilization Plan of 1959, carried out by the government known as “the Technocrats”, which opened up the Spanish economy to the outside world. The conversion of the Spanish currency to American dollars opened the way for more imports. The Spanish GDP began to grow at a rate of over 10% per year.
The opposition to the Franco regime mainly came from the Communist Party, which concentrated its efforts in the university environment and, above all, in the trade unions, with the creation of the Workers’ Commission trade union in 1960 and the miners’ strike in Asturias in 1962. At the end of the 60s the Basque independence organization known as ETA appeared, which would soon become a terrorist group.
The crisis and the end of Francoism came with a steady deterioration in the health of General Franco, which meant planning for the continuity of the dictatorship. Admiral Carrero Blanco was named president of the government in 1973; however that same year he was assassinated by ETA. In September of 1975, the political tension in the country reached its flash point with the death sentence and execution of five activists from the terrorist organizations of FRAP and ETA.
On the 20th of November 1975, General Franco died, thus opening up a new era in the history of Spain. The Democratic Transition started, which would result in the Spanish Constitution, endorsed by referendum in 1978, and the establishment of a parliamentary monarchy led by King Juan Carlos I.