The Socialist party in Spain is taking power and it appears that high on its agenda is to interrupt the eternal slumber of General Francisco Franco in his gothic mausoleum, Valle de los Caidos. With the shifting tectonic plates of Spanish politics his posthumous eviction appears to be on the near horizon, a savory morsel of venganza for the Spanish left over the Franquistas.
Forty-three years after his death and the restoration of the Spanish monarchy and almost eighty years since his civil war victory over the Spanish Republicans the hatred of the Spanish left for the dead Caudillo continues unabated. In the long run Franco abjectly failed in Spain to stem the modern, secularizing tides of change that were washing over the rest of Europe. Unforgettable and unforgiveable, however, is that he was on the wrong side of history, opposed by the “progressives” of his time, and thus, not supposed to win in 1939. That he did with the help of Hitler and Mussolini makes his memory an unrelenting abomination.
Whenever progressives lose they think and act as if they stand on the brink of an apocalypse, as was in stark evidence recently in the reaction of the American left to the improbable defeat of Hillary Clinton who sneered at Trump as a Fascist of sorts whose supporters were “irredeemable.” Trump, like Franco, was declared to be on the wrong side of history and not supposed to win. For the progeny of the communists, socialists and anarchists who succumbed to Franco’s Nationalists, his victory and subsequent dictatorship must be rendered a political and moral cataclysm fit only for execration. Revenge is to be vented symbolically upon his tomb and his memory.
A recent article in the New York Times on the planned demolition of Franco’s crypt quotes Paul Preston, who has written prolifically on Franco and the Spanish Civil War.
“Paul Preston, a British historian and biographer of Franco, said that Spain was an anomaly in Europe in keeping a ‘place of pilgrimage for its fascist dictator’ — there are no monuments to Adolf Hitler in Germany or in Austria, nor to Benito Mussolini in Italy. Among the more than 250,000 visitors to the Valle de los Caídos each year, Mr. Preston said, many are devotees of Franco ‘brought up to believe that he was a benefactor for Spain.’”
Preston does not bother to speculate as to what sort of considerations might move these misguided “devotees” of the Generalissimo. Certainly, they would be nothing that would make any sense to the normal, rational sorts of people who read the New York Times and reflect thoughtfully on all matters of politics. You see, Preston, while nominally a historian, is really a high functioning, sophisticated member of that school of moralists whose theorizing is firmly anchored to the ghost of Adolf Hitler, the ne plus ultra of wickedness and depravity who seems to be always busy reincarnating himself as Trump, Putin, Bush II or whoever is the current menace of right-thinking people said to be “strangling democracy” somewhere. For moralizing purposes, this “Hitlerizing” approach works very well leaving no moral ambiguity to contend with; those who are good and those who are evil are clearly distinguishable. Those who are evil are supremely and unequivocally so, which by contrast makes those who are good paragons of virtue and moral rectitude. When a brand new Hitler comes to town, no need for further conversation, debate or compromise; taking to the streets, brandishing anti-Fascist bona fides, and active resistance is the only moral option. Franco, for Preston, was just an Iberian cutout of the Austrian Corporal, and so anyone who might even attempt to offer an attenuating perspective on his life and career, would have to be castigated as a Brownshirt apologist, drooling away on the fringes. (See: Fosterspeak: Santiago Carrillo, the Last Stalinist)
For historical understanding, however, Preston’s work will not be especially helpful. He remains invincibly oblivious to the reasons that explain why, unlike the absence of monuments for Hitler and Mussolini in contemporary Germany and Italy, there were and are monuments to Franco in Spain. Franco died of natural causes in his old age having prudently kept his country out of World War II (refusing Hitler’s entreaties to draw Spain into an alliance) and having prepared for a peaceful succession of power to a constitutional order. This was in stark contrast to the dramatic, violent exits of Hitler and Mussolini that capped the epic destruction and ruin that their reigns brought to large portions of the planet. The Germans after Hitler’s demise got the Nuremberg Trials; Spain upon Franco’s death got King Juan Carlos, a decent and benevolent man. Spain was never occupied by conquering foreign armies (no Spanish women by the tens of thousands raped and murdered by Red Army soldiers), its citizens never forced or bribed to behave in ways deemed “appropriate” by their Soviet, British, French and American occupiers. Finally, Spanish Catholics might well consider Franco a “benefactor” of sorts given the fate of religious people in communist governed lands throughout the twentieth century. Catholics fared better in mid-twentieth century Spain, then they did in, let us say, Poland.
The Socialists in Spain have been in the Franco decommissioning mode for some time. In 2007 they passed the Law of Historical Memory (Yes, that is not a parody) and commenced the renaming of streets and buildings and the removal of monuments and statues having anything to do with Franco. The Valle de los Caidos has, of course, always been their grand prize. Historical “memory” in contemporary western Europe is a state monopolized enterprise and incorrect thinking about touchy subjects is subject to punishment. To make certain Hitler reigns historically supreme and unchallenged as the Avatar of Evil, historians who depart from the officially sanctioned narratives about German iniquities and culpability are labeled as “holocaust deniers,” their morally opprobrious opinions deemed sufficient to subject them to criminal prosecution. When the state resorts to the criminalizing of unpopular opinions, however, one has to wonder what defects or limitations there might be with the orthodox version that require persecution of the sceptics. Since the dissenters are so obviously deluded and/or ignorant that no normal person would pay them attention, why do they need to be threatened with prison?
The American left has no Franco statues upon which to vent their anti-Fascist fury, but the 2016 Presidential surprise election of Donald Trump was immediately followed by his predictable Hitlerization. Statues and monuments signaling “white supremacy” are now the targets of our very own antifas and Black Lives Matters gangs who seem to resemble the church-burning, priest-murdering, nun-raping, anti-Fascist Spanish anarchists of the 1930s. The attempted mass-murder last year by Bernie Sanders supporter, James Hodgkinson, of dozens of Republican Congressmen and the encouragement by national Democrat leaders for their supporters to engage in the harassment and physical intimidation of Trump administration officials portends an escalation to unprecedented levels of violent political conflict.
Just recently, the NAACP called for the sandblasting away of Confederate carvings on Stone Mountain Georgia. The north face of Stone Mountain depicts three Confederate figures — Confederacy President Jefferson Davis and generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. Work on the carving began in 1923, according to the park’s website. It is 400 feet above ground and the entire carved surface covers about three acres. It is larger than Mount Rushmore. A protest march on July 4th included Black Panthers armed with AK-47s and AR-15s.
“Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams called for the removal of the giant carving that depicts three Confederate war leaders on the face of state-owned Stone Mountain, saying it “remains a blight on our state and should be removed.’”
The left in Spain and the U.S are set on destroying the symbols of a past that make them feel bad. In Spain the memory of Franco seems to poison their waking moments even though he has been long dead and widely forgotten in most of the world. In the U.S. the memory of slavery and Jim Crow, though ancient history, continues to arouses their resentment.
Purging Franco from public spaces and tearing down Confederate statues, however, is not going to make the moralists on the left feel better because feeling bad (angry, resentful, vengeful) is the high octane emotional fuel that runs the engines of cultural Marxism. Left-wing ideologues and activists gain political traction by leveraging the grievances of victim classes, by churning up their anger and turning it against the oppressor classes. Victims who don’t realize that they are victims and feel bad about it are of no use, and without self-conscious, agitated victims, cultural Marxism is like a fast car with no wheels; it goes nowhere.
What helps to keep the bad feelings fresh, invigorating and thus efficacious for members of the victim class is a demonizing vocabulary at their disposal that enables them to portray the oppressors as malignant cretins who have no place in a modern, progressive society. Which is why “Fascist” remains one of the favorites in the left’s lexicon of abuse and why Hitler keeps reappearing whenever progressives experience some resistance to their planned march to perfect equality. The logic is obvious and primitive. “Hitler would be against ‘x’ (‘x’ being the latest progressive fashion); therefore, your opposition to ‘x’ means you must be like Hitler.” “Fascism” has the ideal, goose-stepping imagery and historical connotations from the 1930s that make it the perfect, all-purpose smear – the Gestapo, concentration camps, racial persecution, cult-worship of the leader.
Real flesh and blood Fascists were extinguished by WWII Allied armies, and those few today who imitate the originals occupy the only the far reaches of the social fringe. Thus, the curious irony: while neo-Nazis and Klansmen are few and far between, and while no one in their right mind today wants to be connected with anything resembling Fascism, for the left, it seems, a sizeable portion of the U.S. is made up of them, including our President. The overreach should seem silly and obvious to all but the most deranged fringe of the left. But the smear will persist widely because the left needs Fascists to affirm their own virtue and rationalize their escalating assaults on free speech, religious freedom and historical symbols that offend them. Without the specters of Hitler, Franco, the Klan, sandblasting monuments and renaming streets might seem like a waste of time and effort.