In her impressive new study Pamela Beth Radcliff argues that two types of civic associations in Spain played a crucial role in laying the foundations for the democratic society that emerged after the death of Franco. Eschewing monocausal explanations, Radcliff offers a detailed and nuanced account of the agency of [End Page 545] ordinary men and women in the fascist Movimiento party’s family associations and in the more loosely-constructed grassroots neighborhood associations. She contends that these associations, emerging across Spain in the last fifteen years of the regime, constituted the core of a nascent civil society flourishing within the constructs of authoritarianism. Inasmuch as these associations proved to be all but dead on arrival once the transition to democracy actually took place, her narrative emphasizes a lost opportunity to construct a democratic system involving real citizen engagement. Radcliff’s argument is important on several levels. She offers a new periodization for the transition that de-emphasizes political developments taking place between 1975 and 1978, treating them instead as the culmination of earlier processes. Her focus on the Movimeinto’s creation and management of the family associations provides a clearer picture of how Spanish fascist social thinking evolved in response to decreasing influence within the regime. And she recovers the activities of women in both family and neighborhood associations, who moved toward redefining gender roles and fomented habits of democratic participation.
Unlike most scholars who devalue or dismiss the Movimiento’s family associations as a top-down initiative designed to build mass support for an ideology that had lost ground to the modernizing Technocrats by the late 1950s, Radcliff emphasizes their participatory and pluralistic nature as rooted within fascist visions of the organic state. She shows that the party—especially its Sección Femenina (SF) that oversaw the homemaker Asociaciones de Amas de Casa (AAC) as a vibrant element within the new familarismo movement—lacked the means and the inclination to fully control either the discourse or the practices that those associations actually took up. While there was a pattern of SF neglect of the activities of the AAC, the latter’s focus on the need for women’s education and engagement as citizen-consumers was in keeping with changes within the SF’s gender ideology, which by the 1960s called for greater levels of female integration into the political system. Other family associations, such as the Asociaciones de Cabezas de Familia (ACF), set up for heads of households, similarly carved out a place from which to push for the redress of grievances related to urban infrastructure, public education, and inflation. These associations were designed to build stronger vertical links between families and the state, but ended up forging horizontal links between men, women, and households more generally. In bringing citizens together to take up public concerns, Radcliff argues that they constituted a key building block of civil society.
The neighborhood associations (Asociaciones de Vecinos, or AVs) authorized by the regime after 1964 but not sponsored by the Movimiento, were more inherently horizontal in their orientation. Expanded over time to include women and young people over the age of eighteen in their general membership, they shared concerns with the family associations but focused especially on the infrastructural shortcomings of Spain’s urbanization policies. In so doing, they inevitably involved significant effort to negotiate with the state on matters of paving, water, sewage, street lighting, and the like, and thus strengthened vertical links between civil and political realms. With some notable exceptions in which there was communist or other dissident infiltration, the tone of both types of associations was marked by respectful collaboration with the state, at least until about 1972/3 when general disenchantment with the regime’s shortcomings produced greater levels of confrontation. [End Page 546]
Of the two types of associations, the AV has received more scholarly attention, and credit in the press, for having coalesced into a broader “Citizen Movement” on the eve of the transition. Radcliff’s key contribution here is...