- Catholicism, War, and the Foundation of Francoism: The Juventud de Acción Popular in Spain, 1931–1939 by Sid Lowe
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Sid Lowe’s Catholicism, War, and the Foundation of Francoism is an important study of youth politics during Spain’s transition to democracy and its subsequent collapse into civil war. The Juventud de Acción Popular (Youth of Popular Action, or JAP) was the youth section of the Catholic Confederación Española de Derechas Autónomas (Spanish Confederation of Autonomous Right-Wing Groups, or CEDA), a major political organization created during Spain’s Second Republic (1931–1936). The CEDA brought together regional and provincial organizations to defend Catholicism from perceived government attacks on the Church’s privileged position in Spanish society. The JAP, founded in 1932, was considered the CEDA’s vanguard, calling for more extreme positions than the larger federation was willing to adopt and pushing for the radicalization of the movement as a whole. Drawing substantially on previously unknown source material, Lowe provides a more detailed account of the group than previously available.
In some ways, calling the JAP a “youth” movement is misleading—its official upper age limit was thirty-five, some prominent members were even older, and members under eighteen faced restrictions on their political activities. However, the JAP’s approach to politics closely resembled other charismatic right-wing youth groups such as the fascist Falange Española in its militant tone and political exuberance. By studying the JAP, Lowe wants to uncover “a new lens through which to view the origins and nature of the Falange, the Nationalist war effort and, by extension, the Franco régime” (p. 13). As a result, the majority of Lowe’s analysis explores the “fascistization” of the JAP, aligning his interpretation with that of scholars like Paul Preston and Helen Graham, who have argued that the Franco regime should be considered fascist. Lowe contends strongly that the JAP’s radicalism should include it in any conversation on Spanish fascism—the study of which has long focused on the [End Page 167] Falange—asserting that “the JAP was the real reason that the Falange failed; the CEDA-JAP’s subsequent failure, in turn, would be the reason the Falange later succeeded” (p. 103). He argues that the JAP “accelerat[ed] an already rapid process of fascistisation and militarisation and encourag[ed] a turn towards the army as the defenders of the Fatherland” (p. 155). Many japistas joined the Nationalist military after the July uprising, but JAP militias were much rarer than those of other right-wing extremist groups, though Lowe reasonably explains that “the vast majority of the JAP’s members had departed their former political home and enlisted in the army, the Falange or the Carlists” (p. 169).
Lowe’s discussion of the tension between the JAP and the CEDA’s leadership will likely be of most concern to scholars interested in the history of childhood and youth. Lowe argues that “bringing youth to the front line meant challenging authority within a party where hierarchies were already entrenched” (p. 70). The issue of authority is especially important because the JAP, as Lowe describes it, was outwardly loyal not to the CEDA as an organization but to its leaders as individuals, especially José María Gil Robles, the CEDA’s president. This is part of his larger assertion that the JAP was a “fascist threat and a fascist option during the Republic,” though “its fascistic development [was] arrested by the CEDA” (p. 234, emphasis in original).
Lowe has largely overcome the primary difficulty facing anyone who studies the CEDA and its affiliated societies, which is finding archival source material, given that the preservation of such material on the CEDA was not a priority (and in some cases evidence was deliberately destroyed...