Franco’s Spain. What it was really like.

82 years ago, this week (18/7/18) the Spanish Civil war was started by the military and Francisco Franco against the republican government. The war would last 3 years, Franco was aided by the Nazis and the Italians and the republican government was working with the Soviet Union.

Republic war posters

This war is rightly remembered as a precursor to the Second World War and for the brave international volunteers that came from all around the globe to fight Fascism. Britain and France had a pact that they would not interfere into the war, this pact included Germany, but they ignored it. The pact was made to try to avoid another world war, as you know it was not successful.

During the beginning of the war many sides fought each other. Anarchists took power in Barcelona and Madrid armed its citizens to defend the city. Franco was not the original leader of the nationalist forces, but he soon became the leader after several generals died.


Families were torn apart and many were forced to fight for causes they did not believe in or understand. To this day families still do not know where loved ones are buried, and some families continue to support the side they fought on. It can still divide the country and make the dinner table go quiet at Christmas.

Unfortunately, Franco and his army won the bloody war and it was followed by a brutal dictatorship. The dictatorship was cut off from the international world. Franco ruled from 1939 till his death in 1975.

Today his body is in the Valley of the Fallen, in the hills of Madrid, where local morons go yearly to praise him. Mostly middle-aged fat balding men that are probably bitter about something. This is a yearly feature in the Spanish news, but it has begun to rise a bit more since they have planned to remove his body. Even young men and women are going that were not alive in his time.

Valle de los Caidos (The Valley of the Fallen) AFP PHOTO/PHILIPPE DESMAZES / AFP PHOTO / PHILIPPE DESMAZES

I’ve missed out a lot of information from the war, but if you want to know more I suggest reading Ghosts of Spain By Giles Tremlett, it’s an amazing book. Or for a first-hand account read George Orwell’s Homage to Cataluña, which is also an excellent read.

Whilst living in Spain, with Spanish family, I have had the chance to talk with people who lived through the 36 years of Franco’s rule. This is only a short list and cannot reflect the whole of the era. You should know that from 1939 till the mid 50’s Spain remained isolated from the international community. It was not till the 50’s that Spain become industrialised, and Franco’s regime started to allow more outsiders.

Franco on a stamp as head of state

Until his death at age 82, he remained head of the state. After his death the monarchy was reinstalled, and King Juan Carlos was Franco’s choice of successor. He then brought about democracy and the Spanish constitution which remains till this day. The transition as it is referred to in Spain remains controversial for some and is an achievement for others.

You may wonder why they people are performing the fascist salute outside his grave, well I’m not sure, but I don’t know why they would want to go back to that time.

Here are several things you could not do during Franco’s reign as told by people who lived it.

Political parties were banned


Following the victory of the Civil War, Franco banned all political parties. The Communist party went into hiding, Catalan and Socialist parties were disbanded and all other parties were banned. The Basque party went into exile in France.

Following Franco’s victory, he would spend around the next ten years, or more, killing his political opponents. There are stories of people being taken away in the night to concentration camps and some being shot and buried in mass graves. To this day many families are unsure where some family members are buried.

Some prisoners were forced in to labour camps to build railways, factories and digging canals, others were murdered on the spot. This period became to be known as the White Terror. Up to 400,000 people were killed, they remain buried in the mass graves without identification still today.

Women were treated like children


Franco took away many rights of women that the republican government had passed as law. Woman could not open a bank account until the late 60s, the only way to obtain one was with the signature of their husband or father.

Women were encouraged to be homemakers and loving daughters. Most women had to wear a veil to church too. Feminism was not a word to be uttered in this age.



Even if women wanted to get out they couldn’t.

The Catholic church was the only state religion and their beliefs were law. No divorce, abortion or contraception. All state employees had to be catholic and some even needed a statement from a priest to say they were a well-behaved believer.


Yes, as I mentioned above the Church ruled. In 1954 you could be prosecuted for the criminal office of being homosexual. Prostitution was also made illegal the same year.

In fact, the Catholic church was the only religion. All other ceremonies, practices, books, masses and religious buildings were outlawed in Spain. It was catholic or nothing!

Protest and forming a union


The unions played a big part in the opposition to the nationalist forces during the Civil war. Franco banned the forming of unions and disbanded the old ones. They have now reformed and are still active today, they are the CCOO, CNT and UGT. Franco set up his own union known as the Vertical Labour union. All workers had to be members.

Believe it or not you could not protest either. Yes, Spain loves a good protest in the 21st century, but if you protested in the time of Franco, you would have met heavily armored military police.

Political party and union members went into hiding to avoid being killed. Yet there was and whole circuit of spies reporting on people. People had to be careful.

Cultural suppression


Franco believed in the national Spanish identity. He suppressed all languages that were not Spanish. These included Catalan, Gallego, Basque and Valencian.

Not only did he suppress their languages, but he made them change their names. They were not allowed the names that could be identified with their regional identity. They had to have a religious or Spanish name.

Further independent regional cultural celebrations were prohibited, from dance to national days. Franco brought in what he thought was the Spanish identity, this included flamenco as the national dance. Bullfighting also become the main national sport.


Franco’s regime censored everything, from films and books to songs. They banded 4,343 songs and they didn’t even know what they all meant. They banned most songs on the pretext that they were against catholic values. But, mostly it was about sex. They even edited one film so much that it changed the storyline of the film, and the leading lady ended up having a relationship with her brother.

They edited bed scenes, lines, women’s appearance and much more. They even badly dubbed their own lines over the pictures.

Cover up!!

Military service and Social Service

Sección Femenina

All women and men had to do a form of national service for a few years. Men had to join the military, and many were posted all over the country.

Women on the other hand had to do a form of Social service called Sección Femenina. This encouraged women to take typically female roles and work in the community, from nursing to helping run libraries. They were taught that they were there to serve men and that they were inferior to them too.

Spain now has one of the government cabinets with the most women in and in March 2018 led the first all women strike in the world. It has some of the best right for homosexuals and not to forget a world-famous Pride festival.

Franco 1975

Franco remains in the Valley of the Fallen and will hopefully be removed, yet, his mark on Spain will continue. Many people have many different ways of dealing with this, sometimes the complete opposite. One of his lasting reminders is his family. Recently his only daughter died, but she had plenty of children who apparently own many of the car parks in Madrid. They are also Z list celebrities that appear on the news for driving offences. There is also the famous Casa Pepe.

Some morons may tell you he was good for the country, don’t listen. He presided over Spain when there was an economic boost after a period of isolation after the war. He had little to do with it, in fact, it was the change in ministers that took advantage of this boom. They worked for the church.

He was also paid by the British to stay out of the Second World War. He had little to offer the Axis powers anyway, remember they helped him out in the first place.

Spain has come a long way since the time of Franco, but how the aftermath was dealt with remains controversial in national and regional politics, right down to street level, it’s a controversial topic.

So, if you ever see a Falangist remember this is what they support.

One response to “Franco’s Spain. What it was really like.”

  1. hi, me again, time on hands,Good, informative blog. Just to add, the other, important main “central” TU group today,CCOO comisiones Obreras, started clandestine in 60s? under Comm PArty influence (UGT was SOcialist/psoe before &a fter War, tho these 2 affiliations to parties are not true today).Briefly met the founder , now RIP. Their HQ is central c/Lope de vega, & a good place to start from when theres next gen. strike (get fed&watered too). There were only 1-2 of us in ccoo, on Comit’e @I.H. & they did give me legal backing when needed,tho mine was a lost case anyway since every jul-Sept we were out of contract.When there s strikes in madr,/national/gen. theres often big asambleas/rallies in the HQ. DO -often free – cultural events in there too eg left” films, flamenco, Think the 2 main TUs,&psoe/CP? still claiming back property siezed from them by Franco victory. UGT HQ is a bit out,- Av. America,- some cultural there too. Theres (least ) 2 anarc TUs : CNT, CGT, unsure of differenc, as small/ineffectual/couldnt org a gen strike,as ccoo/ugt can. There were (heroic) strikes under Franco, esp in latter yrs.,esp. by ccoo. Franco eg was hanging TU-ists weeks befor e he died1 ! MAte likes to call him “the galician dwarf” to annoy his fans.


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