Spanish Neutrality

By Sanford Griffith

[The Nation; March 22, 1917]

Neutrality provokes as wide a range of interpretations as most other political institutions in Spain. The many who have amiably explained to me their conception of neutrality expounded as many different theories. But in their conclusion all were agreed, and this Count Romanones, the Premier, summed up for me in a line: "I do not think there is a single Spaniard who wants war." His predecessor, Señor Dato, similarly defined his policy: "The only device on our armor now is, 'Live in peace.'"

"Public opinion," observed the editor of a prominent Madrid paper to me, "does not exist in Spain. We make all of our plans without counting upon it." This is explained by the absence of a bourgeoisie and the fact that the proletariat is so little advanced. The minimum required of a constitutional Government in this conventional sense is to decide something and then tell the people about it. In Spain the Government decides, but need not bother particularly about consulting the people. The peasantry, indeed, look upon political activities much as they do upon church functions, but with less respect. In both cases they either follow or avoid them, but in neither would they for a moment think of disputing the form of the ritual. Their neutrality in the war could hardly be anything but negative—an indifference to the peoples and an ignorance of the principles involved. In our own West the same attitude on a somewhat higher scale is called "polite interest." Neutrality in form may exist anywhere, but neutrality in spirit only in peoples completely detached from the interests at issue.

"Neutrality in Spain," to quote one observer, "is the common denominator between the indifference of the masses and the violent conflicting opinions of the minority." In a political gathering held in a theatre of Madrid some months ago leaders of three different parties, Liberal, Jaimist, and Conservative, each gave the views of his party on what the attitude of the Government should be towards the belligerents. One advocated a benevolent attitude towards France; the Jaimist ardently defended the cause of the Kaiser; but all met on the common ground of neutrality. Only Lerroux, the Radical Deputy from Barcelona, has actively preached intervention. He invited the Government to turn its fleet over to the Allies and open its ports to them: "Let us take sides in all frankness and without reserve with France and Great Britain, the only alliance which will guarantee our independence in the future. All else aside, the compensations which would follow our intervention would add immensely to our prosperity."

It is not without significance that the majority of conservative opinion favors Germany in the war, while liberal sympathies turn unmistakably to France and England. There are a few Liberals, however, who, fascinated by German industrial energy and enjoying the credit facilities offered by the Madrid branch of the Deutsche Bank, believe that German cooperation and German methods would work an admirable transformation in Spain. This explains the pro-German bias of certain popular newspapers which appreciate German advertising commissions, but at the same time find that their subscribers have a greater interest in, though they know less of, what goes on in Germany than in other countries. I have noticed also that preponderance is given in many periodicals, whatever their sympathies, to German problems. In Nuestro Tiempo, for example, the proportion is four to one. Of the forty per cent, of Spaniards who are literate, a great part depends exclusively upon their newspapers for their reading. While this has facilitated German propaganda, it has also simplified propaganda by the Allies, who control the more important press agencies.

Opinion favorable to the Allies is more general, and hence more difficult to define. Those of Republican tendencies have instinctively turned to France for inspiration. The successive Ministries since the war have each recognized the closer economic ties binding Spain to the Allies and have been rather pro-Ally. Curiously enough, Señor Maurra, long leader of the Conservative Clerical group, has taken issue with the majority of his party and declared his sympathy for France. I was surprised to find that in intellectual circles there were many who showed sympathy for France, but who looked upon British Imperialism much as do the German people.

On the other hand, there are those who dream of a Spanish renaissance, of a pan-Iberianism, a worthy companion to pan-Germanism and pan-Slavism. These are largely Carlists, who look forward to the day when Don Jaime will return to Spain and claim his own. For them Gibraltar is still only "temporarily occupied" (to use the official reference to it), and they cannot forget the raiding armies of Napoleon. The present for them is merely an interim between the unhappy past and a dim future. To quote one of them: "What concerns me is that Portugal did not remain a workshop of England. I look for the day when the same flag will float from Barcelona to Lisbon; when we shall be a united population of thirty millions, and with an army of a million and a half, which would soon raise Spain from the false position in which she now lives." They quote Treitschke and compare the state to a living organism which must either grow or decay.

The clergy favor Germany for the rather negative reason of absolute incapacity to tolerate France, land of Voltaire, of agnosticism, and of religious persecution. They have never forgiven the Italian Government for having dared put foot within the Holy City. This prejudice finds a counterpart in the ideas suggested to the people, who see in Poincaré and Victor Emmanuel two arch-heretics plotting together for the confusion of the Church. The Order of Jesus, influenced by its extensive affiliations in Austria and Germany, has had no small share in fixing this opinion. I have frequently noticed in Switzerland and in other neutral countries that Clerical influence tends to favor the Central States, and I mentioned this impression recently to the Abbé Dimnet, the well-known French critic, who sadly admitted that this was the most difficult propaganda to meet.

The curious revival of Catalanism in opposition to the Castilian Government, so long the ruling power in Spain, has grown rapidly these last two decades. At moments of tension the Catalans have looked for support from France much as some of the Irish Nationalists were ready to accept aid from Germany—the only difference being that France has given them no encouragement. The Catalans, though a minority, represent the greater part of the wealth of Spain. But they have little national feeling and threaten, unless the Government recognizes their regional claims, to appeal elsewhere. Many Catalans enrolled in the Foreign Legion, and there has even been a Catalan declaration of sympathy for France. They are, however, primarily interested in their own autonomy and declare that, should France not heed their appeal (and there is no likelihood that she ever will), they will turn to Germany or some other sympathetic Power. It is easy to ridicule such declarations, but the war has shown to what disastrous results misdirected nationalism may lead. The significance of Catalanism in Spain is increased by the wealth of the leaders and the superior energy and progressiveness of the people.

Appeals to Latin solidarity in Spain meet very faint response. To quote Ruiz de Grijalba: "In 1898 the United States committed against Spain the most unjust and cruel act of force and despotism that history records. But no one came to help us because we were neighbors or because we were Latins. To-day no appeal of race should draw us in." Pamphlets are numerous refuting the racial argument and emphasizing its contradictions by the alliances of this war. "Fa da se" receives a peculiarly determined interpretation in Spain.

Foreign propaganda flourishes. Spain, neighboring France, but offering hospitality to a colony of more than forty thousand Germans, many of them from Italy and the African colonies, has been the centre of all kinds of intrigue. The facilities for propaganda have been increased by the responsiveness of many newspapers to foreign inspiration in concrete form. Except for one or two conservative, semiofficial sheets, all of them have become known as pro-German or pro-Ally. Their sympathies are not, however, particularly profound, as in the case of one paper which was pro-French until purchased by German interests, when, it became Germanophile in a night, keeping, I understand, the same staff of editors and correspondents.

It is so easy to generalize about little-known countries that one habitually refers to "Catholic Spain" or, more harshly, "Reactionary Spain." When the French Academicians made their official visit they were received and dined by a group of enthusiastic admirers at the Ritz. In response to the toast of welcome one of the Academicians made an eloquent address full of allusions to the France of Jeanne d'Arc, to Rheims, and to the glorious Catholic history the two countries had shared together for so many centuries, He failed to notice the uneasiness of his listeners and only learned some time after that the dinner had been given by liberal republicans, whose admiration for France was exactly because of her emancipation from the influences the Academician had just been describing. This tendency to generalize has been the weakness of French propaganda in Spain as in Switzerland. Then, too, there is a natural pride—"let the facts speak for themselves." The editor of one of the largest Madrid papers called my attention to this attitude of aloofness and silence, when often a word of explanation would have dissipated a false rumor.

But the Spanish do not take any war propaganda very seriously, and none of it could induce them to active participation in the war. The people feel the need of a long period of peace to achieve their own regeneration. They look upon their neutrality as a courtesy to the belligerents. Count Romanones said to me recently: "Neutrality is a good thing even for the belligerents. It limits war and brings nearer a peace which must come whether it be this year or ten years distant."

© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013

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