Academic journal article Church History

Catholicism, War and the Foundation of Francoism: The Juventud De Accion Popular in Spain, 1931-1939

Academic journal article Church History

Catholicism, War and the Foundation of Francoism: The Juventud De Accion Popular in Spain, 1931-1939

Article excerpt

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In 1931 the Second Republic became the government of Spain, countering the European norm as Fascist and fascist-style governments appeared to proliferate. The Republic's arrival raised public expectations and it too speedily implemented radical reform, exemplified by its attempt to separate church and state. Church desecrations and anticlerical violence were one manifestation of Spaniards' desire for a more secular society in May 1931.

The faithful reacted swiftly by creating Acción Popular, a proto-political party led by lawyer and Catholic newspaper editor, José María Gil Robles, by October 1932. Gil Robles and his coreligionists preferred altering the republic's content rather than overthrowing it, an approach known as accidentalism. Robles' political wit and charisma unified the right in the largest political party in Spanish history, Confederación Español de Derechas Autonomas (CEDA, Spanish Confederation of Autonomous Right Wing Groups). In 1933, CEDA won a parliamentary majority but never led the government, nor captured the majority of cabinet posts. Legal takeover thus blocked, CEDA then obstructed government and eventually collaborated with military conspirators who waged war to destroy the Republic in 1936.

Simon (Sid) Lowe's meticulously researched study of CEDA's youth wing, the Juventud de Acción Popular (JAP, Youth of Popular Action) is set against this background. Lowe, a Madrid-based British journalist reporting on Spanish Futbol for The Guardian , spent a great deal of time nosing about Spanish archives acquiring documentary evidence that eventually became his doctoral thesis, supervised by Mary Vincent, for the University of Sheffield. Lowe accessed JAP documents, party publications, contemporary newspaper accounts, diaries, speeches, and eye witness narratives, including those of Gil Robles, to assert that, "the party-political basis of the Franco régime is more properly sought in the radical wing of the CEDA and the JAP, which did much to provoke the conditions necessary for the rising and the foundation of the New State and closely foreshadowed the nature of that régime" (8). The Spanish Civil War's bibliography is huge, unwieldy and, I mistakenly thought, devoid of silences that required filling. Sid Lowe's book revises the historical record, revealing the Juventud's seminal role in the outbreak of civil war in Spain. It also demonstrates that the ideological underpinnings of Francoism resided in JAP ideology.

The book's six chronological and thematic chapters relate the Juventud's birth, development, and eventual demise from 1931-1939. Chapter 1 convincingly examines the JAP's infusion with fascist ideology and its hispanicization through amalgamation with Catholicism but its assertion that, between the JAP and the Falange, the latter resorted to less political violence, falls short of the mark. Lowe's argument, that a broader view of what constitutes violence is key, is less convincing, especially when it praises the JAP precisely for its willingness to engage in physical confrontation against the October revolution in 1934. The second chapter outlines the JAP's vision for a new state that foreshadows, in remarkable detail, the Spanish Francoist state. Lowe's narrative clearly reveals CEDA's opportunistic use of the Juventud's vision with the main problem being the relationship between the two; the latter struggling between dependence and independence with the former, especially given CEDA's tepid commitment to the core values the JAP held dear. …

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