, 3rd Marquis of Estella (April 24, 1903 November 20, 1936), was a Spanish
lawyer, nobleman, politician, and founder of the Falange Española
("Spanish Phalanx"). He was executed by the Spanish republican government
during the course of the Spanish Civil War
LifeJosé Antonio Primo de Rivera was born in Madrid on April 24, 1903, the oldest son of General Miguel Primo de Rivera
, Prime Minister and Dictator
under the monarchy of King Alfonso XIII of Spain
. From his father he inherited the title of Marquis of Estella (Navarre
). Although he never married he is reputed to have had several girlfriends, one of them rumoured to have been Elizabeth Asquith
, the daughter of former British Prime Minister Herbert Henry Asquith (see entry "The Possible Relationship between Primo de Rivera and Elizabeth Bibesco" in this article's Discussion page).
His mother died when he was five years old, and he was subsequently raised by his father's sister. He was privately taught at home, and learned English and French. When at university, he did not attend lectures until the second year of his undergraduate studies. He spent his summer holidays in the country estate of an uncle where he learned to ride horses and learned to hunt.
Primo de Rivera went on to study law at the University of Madrid
between 1917 and 1923. He helped to organize the student union there, "Federación Universitaria Escolar," which opposed the higher-education policies of his father. His undergraduate academic record is mixed. He obtained a grade of A+ in second-year Civil Law, in Private International Law and in Forensics; he got an A in Spanish History, in Political Economics, in Administrative Law, in Taxation Law and in Business Law; but he failed four times: Civil Law twice, History of Spanish Literature once and Criminal Law once. He took undergraduate and graduate courses simultaneously and he obtained both his Bachelor and Doctor degrees in the same year, 1923.
After graduating he picked the "One-Year Volunteer" option to do his military service while his father was dictator. He served with the Ninth Dragoons of St. James cavalry regiment stationed at Barcelona. He was court-martialed for punching a superior officer, Brigadier General Gonzalo Queipo de Llano
Queipo de Llano had written a defamatory letter against an uncle of Jose Antonio and against the Dictator himself. Jose Antonio, ready to defend the honour of his family abused by the Republican general, went to the café where the latter used to socialize, and after asking whether he was the author of the writing, and after receiving the general's affirmative reply, delivered a spectacular punch that made the general roll on the floor, sparking a free-for-all between the companions of Jose Antonio and the companions of the general.
The tribunal meted out a very lenient sentence, the temporary demotion from the rank of second lieutenant.
In 1925 he became a registered lawyer and opened an office on a side street of Madrid very near the confluence of three principal avenues. In 1931 he was invested "Perpetual Dean of the Illustrious College of Lawyers of Madrid."
In 1931 he constituted "Agrupación al Servicio de la República" (Assembly at the Service of the Republic) and paradoxically ran for office under the monarchist banner of "Unión Monárquica Nacional";—he failed to get elected.
He was detained briefly in 1932 for collaboration in General Sanjurjo's attempted coup.
FalangeOn October 29, 1933, he launched Falange Española
("Spanish Phalanx"), a nationalist party inspired by Fascism. The foundational convention was held in the Theatre of Comedy of Madrid. He was the keynote speaker and his first address was a criticism of liberal democracy.
Since the liberal state was a servant of [Rousseau] it became not just the trustee of a nation's destiny but also the spectator of electoral contests. What alone mattered to the liberal state was that a certain number of gentlemen be sitting at the polling station, that the voting start at eight o'clock and end at four, that the ballot boxes not get smashed—when being smashed is the noblest aspiration of all ballot boxes—and then to respect the outcome of the voting, as if the outcome was a matter of complete indifference to it. In other words liberal governments did not even believe in their mission, that theirs was a respectable duty, but rather they believed that anyone who disagreed with them and decided to attack the state, whether with good or ill intentions, had the same right as they did to defend it.
During the speech he made his noted remark on the recourse to fists and guns when needed,
And in closing, that if what we want must in some circumstance be attained through the use of violence, that we demur not before the prospect of violence. For who has said, when they say, "Every available means except violence," that the supreme hierarchy of moral values resides in kindness? Who has said that when our feelings are insulted, rather than react like men, we are called upon to reply amiably? Dialogue as a first step of communication is well and good. But there is no option left except fists and guns when someone offends the precepts of justice or the fatherland.
His closing words made explicit his romanticism.
In a poetic sweep we will raise this fervent devotion to Spain; we will make sacrifices, we will renounce the easy life and we will triumph, triumph that—you know this well—we shall not obtain in the upcoming elections. In these elections vote the lesser evil. But your Spain will not be born out of them, nor does our frame for action reside there. That is a murky atmosphere, spent, like a tavern's after a night of dissipation. Our station is not there. I am a candidate, yes, but I take part in these elections without faith or respect. And I say this now, when so doing may rest me every vote. I couldn't care less. We are not going to squabble with the establishment over the unsavory left-overs of a soiled banquet. Our station is outside though we may provisionally pass by the other one. Our place is out in the clear air, beneath a moonlit sky, cradling a rifle, and the stars overhead. Let the others party on. We outside in tense vigil; earnest and self-confident we divine the sunrise in the joy of our hearts.
He stood for office in the general election of 19 November under the umbrella of "Unión Agraria y Ciudadana," part of the broad conservative coalition Confederación Española de Derechas Autónomas (CEDA). This time he was elected and entered Parliament as a member for Cadiz
In his first parliamentary intervention he answered Gil Robles—the founder of CEDA—who had just spoken out against all totalitarian forms of government for arrogating themselves the attributes of God and crushing the personality of the individual,
We believe that the state does not have to justify its behaviour at every turn, just as no individual or social class does, in so far as it holds to a guiding principle all the time. All the while the state is made out to be God by Rousseau's idea that the state, or the will of those it represents, is always right. What makes the state like God is the belief that the will of the state, embodied by absolute monarchs in the past and now by the popular vote, is always right. The monarch may have erred; the popular vote may err because neither truth nor goodness derives from an act or assertion of the will. Goodness and truth are perennial tributaries of reason, and to ascertain whether one is in the right it is not enough to ask the king—whose dictate seemed always just to his supporters—nor enough to canvass the people—whose decision is always right according to the disciples of Rousseau. What must be done rather is to verify whether our actions and our thoughts are in agreement at every step with a permanent aspiration.
On February 11, 1934, Falange merged with Ramiro Ledesma's Juntas de Ofensiva Nacional-Sindicalista
to create the Falange Española de las Juntas de Ofensiva Nacional-Sindicalista under Jose Antonio's leadership.
In the general election of February 16, 1936, Falange won only 0.7% of the vote; but the wave of instability which greeted the victory of the Popular Front
—a left-wing coalition of Communists, Socialists, liberal Republicans like the Radicals, and others—caused an influx of new members, and the minuscule party grew to more than 40,000 members by July.
Primo de Rivera created several Falangist symbols. The Falangist uniform was a blue shirt with the embroidered design of a yoke (a symbol for farming) plus a backdrop of five vertical arrows (a symbol for war), copied from the heraldry of the Catholic Monarchs
. The cap was the red beret of the Carlists. The flag bore the red and black colours of the Anarchists. The salute was the Roman salute
. In casual conversation Falangists were expected to overlook rank and to call one another "Comrade." In 1935 Primo de Rivera collaborated in editing the lyrics of the Falangist anthem, "Cara al Sol
" (Face to the Sun).
Every member of Falange had to obey unquestioningly.
The honour and task of Falange must be gauged by those who carry the burden of leadership on their shoulders. Do not forget that one of the rules of our code of ethics is to have faith in the leaders. Your leaders are always right.
DeathOn March 14, 1936, he was arrested in Madrid for illegal possession of firearms. Nine weeks later he was transferred to Alicante. Prison security was lax, and he was able to communicate with Nationalist conspirators by post until a new director of the prison took charge and his cell was searched. The search turned up two handguns and a hundred rounds of ammunition, so thereafter he was held incommunicado. On October 3 he was charged with conspiracy against the Republic and military insurrection, both capital offences. Primo de Rivera conducted his own defense. On November 18 at 2:30 AM he was declared guilty and sentenced to death by firing squad. The sentence was carried out in the early morning hours of November 20, 1936; the date immediately became a day of remembrance for the Spanish Far-Right.
It is said by some that the Republic offered the Nationalists a prisoner exchange involving Primo de Rivera and a son of the Republic's president Francisco Largo Caballero
and that Franco turned down the offer. Others contend that it was the Republican government who rejected the deal of the Nationalists and that General Franco approved several failed commando raids on the Alicante prison to try and rescue Jose Antonio. Either way the death of the founder of Falange rid the general of a formidable rival. Perhaps tellingly, it was well known that the two men disliked each other. After one of the two meetings they ever had, Franco dismissed Jose Antonio as "a playboy pinturero" (a foppish playboy).
The young dynamic leader of the Falange was, like his father, a great admirer of Great Britain and spoke fluent English. He had been repelled by Hitler on his one visit to Nazi Germany in the Spring of 1934 and regarded the Nazi officials he met with as depressing and rancorous. Had he lived, a major struggle between him and Franco would probably have been inevitable. Unlike the dour Franco, Jose Antonio was an accomplished orator, intellectual and parliamentarian. His execution by Republican forces in 1936 was a grave mistake.
IdeologyThe political canon of Falange resembled that of Italy's Partito Nazionale Fascista. It shared its dislike of Marxism and its contempt for democracy. It sought to bridge the gap between patriotism and Marxist internationalism by rejecting the concept of class warfare while conceding the exploitation of the working class under capitalism. Primo de Rivera proposed that the creation of a hierarchical trade-union hegemony under Falangist control would guarantee the robust protection of every honest worker. Additionally the Falangist platform called for extensive agrarian reforms, for the nationalization of the banking system and for the suppression of all political parties. Until the desired establishment of one-party rule Falange preferred the formalities of a liberal democracy. The party had no formal view on religion other than to guarantee freedom of worship while at the same time acknowledging and affirming that Roman Catholicism was the historical preference of the Spanish people.
In Primo de Rivera's thinking the ultimate goal of the new political movement was the resurgence of Spain as a major power. Article 1 of the Falangist Manifesto of 1934 reads,
We believe in the supreme reality of Spain. To strengthen her, to make her great is the paramount task of every Spaniard. Personal interest, collective or class interests must surrender to the achievement of this goal.
The third article states unequivocally,
We have the will for empire-building. We affirm that the historical fulfillment of Spain is the empire. We seek for Spain a preeminent place in Europe. We do not tolerate international boycotts or foreign mediation. In regard to the countries of Spanish America we favour the unification of culture, of economic interests and of power. Spain puts forward her pivotal role in the affairs of the Hispanic world as entitlement to occupy a position of dominance in global affairs.
Article 7 warns,
Human dignity, the spiritual integrity of man and his freedom are eternal, intangible values and rights. But only he who belongs to a strong, free nation is truly free. Noone will be allowed to use his liberty to attempt against the unity, the strength or the freedom of the fatherland. Harsh discipline will be directed against every attempt to poison, to divide Spaniards or to distance them from the destiny of the fatherland.
Primo de Rivera did not accept the right of any region to self-determination and called for the wholesale eradication of separatists.
The creation of great unions like Spain is the result of many generations engrossed in constant effort. The hard-earned glory of such a great task rests on centuries of sacrifice. To unravel it is much easier: simply let primeval, splintering separatism, barbarian at heart, take root in every crevice, and everything comes crashing down.
But that happens in the absence of the resolute decision of a people, already shaped, who wish to remain together at all costs, and from whose youth will come individuals willing to order the shooting from behind, without hesitation, of clusters of traitors.
He restated his position forcefully two months later in a letter to General Franco.
At the end of my meeting [with the Minister of the Interior] my determination to go out on the streets with a rifle to defend Spain had not cooled, but it was accompanied by the near-certainty that all who went out on the streets were going to play a dignified part in a defeat. Before the likely crafty and able assailants of the Spanish state, the Spanish state, in the hands of amateurs, does not exist.
From his jail cell in Madrid two months before the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War he called on all military officers to take up arms against the government.
When your sons inherit the uniforms you now flaunt, they will with them inherit either the shame of hearing it said, "When your father wore this uniform what was once Spain ceased to exist," or the pride of remembering, "Our Spain did not succumb because my father and his brothers-in-arms saved her in the moment of truth." If you do, as the old version of the oath says, "May God reward you," and if you do not, may he call you to account.
Other political views (Quotations)Jose Antonio addressed political issues of interest mainly to a Spanish gallery. However the following cull of quotations may interest a broader audience.
(October, 1933, "En una tarde de Octubre," prologue to Mussolini's book, El Fascismo)
It was six-thirty in the evening. In the Palace of Venice, not the smallest sound of bustle. Two militiamen and an easygoing doorman guarded the entrance. It could be said that to enter the palace where Mussolini works is easier than having access to any Public Administration building…Mussolini works in a huge suite made of marble and almost without furnishings. There he was, in a corner at the far end, behind his desk. He was far away, alone in the immensity of the room…I knew him from the familiar posters: nearly always striking a military pose, saluting or haranguing. But Il Duce of the Palace of Venice was somebody else: with silver in his hair; with a subtle air of fatigue; with a certain tidy negligence in his civilian clothes. He was not the leader of rallies, but of a marvellous serenity. He spoke pausedly, enunciating every syllable. He had to deliver some instruction over the telephone and he did so in the calmest tone, without the least tinge of authoritarianism…We chatted for about half an hour. Then he accompanied me to the door across the vast chamber…Then he returned to his desk, slowly, to start his work afresh in silence. It was seven o'clock in the evening. Rome at the end of a working day spilled over onto the streets in the mild night. Il Coso was all bustle and conversation, like our own Alcala Street about the same hours. People walked into cafés or into the cinemas. It could be said that Il Duce alone remained at work beside the lamp on his desk in the corner of a large, empty apartment, keeping watch over his people, over Italy—whom he could hear in the distance, pulsating—as if over a small daughter. What apparatus of government, what system of checks and balances, counsellors and assemblies, can replace that image of the hero turned father, who stays vigilant beside a small, perennial light on behalf of the labouring and of the leisure of his people?
On Karl Marx:
(March 4, 1934, at the Calderón Theatre, Valladolid)
Of course the workers had to rebel one day against that jest [economic liberalism] and class struggle had to break out. Class struggle had a just motive, and Socialism had at first a just reason, and we do not have to deny that. What happened is that Socialism instead of keeping to its initial course of pursuing social justice among men became a pure doctrine of chilling coldness and does not think, little or much, about the liberation of the workers. There are a lot of workers out there proud of themselves saying they are Marxists. Many streets in many towns of Spain are dedicated to Karl Marx; but Karl Marx was a German Jew who from his office observed with terrible detachment the most dramatic events of his age. He was a German Jew who before the English factories of Manchester, and while he formulated implacable laws about the accumulation of capital, while he formulated implacable laws about production and the interests of the factory owners and the interests of the workers, was writing letters to his friend Engels telling him that the workers were a mob and a rabble with whom one should not mingle except as it afforded an opportunity to test their doctrines.
On German National-Socialism:
(February 17, 1935, at the Alhambra Cinema, Zaragoza)
It is necessary to examine with a lot of deliberation the two attempts [at totalitarian government] essayed thus far: Italian fascism and German national-socialism, and point out the differences that may exist between both ideological movements. The Italian movement is above all classical; it tends to the classical. It operates subject to a way of thinking, to a framework of the mind. A brain is at work and the result is projected onto a people.
The German case is entirely opposite. It starts from a Romantic faith, from a race's capacity for divination. Hence it is fair to affirm that Hitlerism is a mystical movement, very much tuned to the German psyche. Moreover Germany is not, as believe those fond of broad generalizations, the country of discipline, despite appearing to be so outwardly. The Germans are a very special people. They sing very well together in choral groups, they march to the same martial step; but every movement of indiscipline, of rebellion in the world, reminiscent of Spartacus, originated in Germany.
On Spain's position regarding the motion tabled before the League of Nations to impose military sanctions on Mussolini's Italy for his invasion of Ethiopia:
(October 2, 1935, parliamentary intervention)
But I tell you something else—this is the second reason—that Spain, in the moment of deciding whether to remain neutral or not, must consider this exclusively: her national interest and her decorum; she must consider if there is a Spanish national interest in the matter, and there is none in defending the British empire, whom we owe nothing [Mutterings]. Shall I have to bring to your minds the memory of Gibraltar? We do not owe anything to the British empire and we should not defend it and what we should consider is this and this only: what Spain's national interest is. What the decorum of Spain does not tolerate is to adopt a posture of intervention or neutrality because of threats or demands [Applause].
(November 21, 1935. Arriba, 20)
While the current terrible economic crisis is ruining or on the way to ruining the medium producers ["producer" is a euphemism for "worker"], and the working masses suffer the nightmare of unemployment like never before, the amount of profits obtained by the beneficiaries of the present order, the magnates of the banking system, is extremely high.
Hence the urgent task of the producers is this: To destroy the liberal system, putting an end to political cliques and to the sharks of the banking establishment. But in order to bring this about two possibilities open up: the Communist route or the path of National SyndicalismNational syndicalismNational syndicalism is a nationalist variant of syndicalism.- Founding of national syndicalism in France :National syndicalism was founded in France by the fusion of Maurrassian integral nationalism with Sorelian syndicalism. Interest in Sorelian thought arose in the French political right,...
("Nacional-Sindicalismo"). There are no other ways out. The two aspire to pulverize this order of things; the two want a new order.
On the Right of Women to Vote:
(February 14, 1936. Interviewed by reporter Luisa Trigo in the newspaper La Voz, Madrid)
I have no faith in the vote of women. However I don't trust the efficacy of the vote of men either. The inaptitude for the poll is the same for her as for him. The universality of the vote is useless and harmful for the peoples who wish to decide their political and historical future by means of voting. I do not believe, for example, that the masses own an opinion on the convenience or inconvenience of some international allegiance or on the maritime policy to follow, or at most, more of an opinion than very few of their representatives. Mr. Antonio Maura made voting compulsory. And what for? In the best of cases the men elected are gentlemen without a will of their own, subordinates of their party, lacking the expertise to solve pausedly the toilsome and substantial affairs of the state. Those who are elected are not elected for being the most suitable to the country, but because they are the most accommodating to their superiors, and they have little concern for the laws which once enacted will take the nation down a particular path.
On the Soviet Union:
"Rightist," "leftist," they are words with little relevancy. The Russian state is the most rightist of all in Europe and the Soviet populace is the most leftist ideologically…
On the Inevitability of War:
Jose-Antonio: War [he says adamantly] is inalienable to man. He does not evade it nor will he ever evade it. It exists since the world began and it will keep existing. It is an element of progress…It is absolutely necessary!
Luisa Trigo: When women take part in the governance of the state, don't you think that she will protect her children from war, barring that they take away and destroy what is most precious to her work and to her life? Educating her children in the hatred of war…
Jose-Antonio: She would only make cowards out of them. Men need war. If you regard war as an evil, then because men need evil. Out of the eternal struggle against evil comes the triumph of good, says St. Francis. War is absolutely indispensable and inevitable. Man feels it inside with an intuitive, atavistic pull, and it will be in the future what it has been in the past…The peoples of Earth without war? [The leader of Falange smiles a protracted smile].
PoemsAlthough Primo de Rivera is remembered mostly for his political articles in wide-circulation newspapers and magazines such as La Nación, Blanco y Negro, ABC, or in the Falangist press, F.E. or Arriba among others, Primo de Rivera expressed a fondness for poetry to poet and novelist Jose-Maria Peman in a letter he wrote late in the spring of 1931.
How I wish that one could live in a liveable country where there were a greater number of good poets and a very much greater amount of good manners!
He wrote the occasional poem and left behind eight extant rhymes composed before the start of his parliamentary career in 1933.
The Prophecy of Magellan is an epic one-hundred and five verses long. In the following stanza the teenage author puts on the lips of the Portuguese admiral his own fervent wish to see Portugal and Spain reunited eventually.
The Prophecy of Magellan (January 1922)
Of Spain and Portugal the Iberian race
Whose sons today sail united like brothers
'Neath the shade of one and the same colours,
Portuguese and Spanish
Together sculling after a common fate…
Spaniards, who can tell? Whether some day
Your fatherland will with mine unite
In a bond of love eternal and tight!
Toast is a tongue-in-cheek celebration of the virtues of the wine from the small town of Orbaneja del Castillo. The sonnet was printed on the back of the menu at a restaurant in Madrid located a short walking distance away from Primo de Rivera's law office; very possibly the restaurant where he ate lunch.
Toast (July 19, 1925)
We have drunk the sun dissolved in wine
And the blood of carnations in gazpacho
Gazpacho is a cold Spanish/Portuguese tomato-based raw vegetable soup, originating in the southern region of Andalucía. Gazpacho is widely consumed throughout Spain, neighboring Portugal and parts of Latin America...
For neighbour at the table I've had
An old, lusty faun, a stud.
Don Pedro is Andalusian, loud, of fine mien,
And every time he utters the wisecracks of the cad
He speaks them with the gay laughter of the lad
And the knowledge of an old libertine.
In the end the tablecloth was rent in wounds,
And there did the blushing roses drop
On the caries of the worn tabletop.
And amid the essenced aroma of the roses
We savoured the kisses of the goddesses
In glasses of wine from Orbaneja
Orbaneja Riopico is a municipality located in the province of Burgos, Castile and León, Spain. According to the 2004 census , the municipality has a population of 177 inhabitants....
Primo de Rivera dedicated this next poem to the girl whom his sister Pilar Primo de Rivera
dubbed "his true love," teenaged Maria del Pilar Azlor de Aragon y Guillamas
, 18th Duchess of Villahermosa (1908–1997).
Intimate Poem (1925)
Let's dwell in the world
Yet let's keep ours apart
In a recess of the heart.
A world of our own
Where your hours and my hours pass
And no one to disturb us.
The fourth poem is strikingly short, effective.
Gardens of Paterna
Paterna is a municipality in the province of Valencia in the Valencian Community, Spain. It is located northeast of the comarca of La Huerta de Valencia, 5 km northwest of Valencia, and on the left bank of the river Turia...
Fell down a white well
Under the lemon tree.
Relevance in Franco's regimeFalange joined the military uprising against the Republic. During the course of the war the marginal party gained ascendancy partly as a result of its prominent role in the brutal repression that took place behind Nationalist lines. Nevertheless the party lost autonomy and was made wholly subservient to the will of General Franco in 1937 when he had Primo de Rivera's lieutenant, Manuel Hedilla Larrey
, thrown in jail, tried and sentenced to death. Franco appointed his own brother-in-law Serrano Suñer
to replace him.
The dictatorship of Francisco Franco nurtured a convenient cult of personality
around the dead figure of Primo de Rivera whom Falangists dubbed "El Ausente" (The Missing One). The founder of Falange was anointed a martyr of the "crusade against Marxism." Notwithstanding the apparent veneration by the regime, it remains true that the Missing One's demise had removed a dangerous opponent: Primo de Rivera had been marquis, a doctor of civil law, a political thinker; Franco owned no comparable pedigree, no comparable education and no personal ideology.
. In 1959 his mortal remains were exhumed and re-interred in the gargantuan basilica of the Valley of the Fallen outside Madrid.
The postwar cult of personality had two ubiquitous icons. The first, a funereal slab placed on the external wall of many churches and cathedrals which bore the crowning inscription, Caídos por Dios y por España ("Fallen for God and for Spain"), followed by a list of local Nationalists killed during the war; Primo de Rivera's name headed every list. The second was the rallying cry, "José Antonio—¡Presente!," a figurative reply to an imaginary roll call invoking his ghostly attendance or immanence.
With the arrival of democratic rule the legacy of Primo de Rivera and the cult of personality created by the dictatorship started to wane circumspectly. In 1981 the City Hall of Madrid moved to reinstate the original name of its grand avenue, the Gran Vía
, which Franco had renamed "Avenida José Antonio Primo de Rivera" in 1939. However, as late as March 2005, the City Hall of Guadalajara
removed a memorial to the founder of Falange under cover of darkness.
The process of de-glorification of Spanish Fascist figures grew bolder and gathered pace in the year 2010. On January 22 the City Hall of Corunna removed the statue of its native son Jose Millan Astray
just after dawn to curtail any public outcry. On March 18 the rider statue of General Franco was retired from even restricted display in the navy yard of Ferrol, his city of birth. On May 5 the list of names and inscriptions commemorating the Nationalist casualties of the Civil War were chiselled out of the facade of the pro-cathedral of the city of Vigo with full public knowledge and in broad daylight.
- Recent book by Ángel Luis Sánchez Marín
- Recent article about his thought in the context of the times.