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  • Internalisations of Empire:Colonial Ambivalence and the Early Francoist Missionary Film
  • Jo Labanyi (bio)

Postcolonial theory, which offers itself as a framework for elucidating a globalised multicultural world, often forgets its own cultural specificity, rooted almost entirely in British—or less often French—models of empire. While it is common to talk of "postcolonial Latin America," this is usually in the context of resistance to post-1898 U.S. neo-imperialism, forgetting the very different structures of Spanish and Portuguese colonisation dating back to the late fifteenth century. When Spanish and Portuguese imperialism has been considered by non-Iberian and non-Latin American specialists, it has tended to be seen as an anomaly in the accepted scheme whereby empire—meaning those empires that continued into the modern period, not of course the empires of antiquity—and capitalist modernity are conflated. The implication, which has infiltrated even the work of key Iberian intellectuals writing under modernity, is that Spain's and Portugal's backwardness in relation to the "more developed" capitalist nations resulted from a historical error in embarking on empire at the "wrong" time. Such thinking fails to consider the obvious: that, if Spain and Portugal developed their empires in the pre-modern period, then the equation between empire and capitalist modernity is inadequate.

This has especially important consequences for discussion of a central issue in postcolonial studies: race. For the racism that [End Page 25] underscored the modern empires, which provide the dominant model for thinking about the postcolonial was, as is well known, the direct product of nineteenth-century scientific theory, as were the discourses on gender and sexuality, which are inextricably bound up with it. While I certainly do not want to argue that pre-modern concepts of race, gender and sexuality were less oppressive than their modern counterparts—nor, of course, do I want to exonerate the early modern empires of the Iberian world—their specificity needs to be recognised. What is particularly interesting in the Iberian case is that colonial discourses formed in the early modern period come, in the modern period, to coexist with specifically modern discourses of social control, in a complex ideological tangle. I hope in this essay to show how the discourse of empire found in four missionary films of the early Franco regime offers models that deviate significantly from the theorisation of race dominant in the Anglo-Saxon world. I hope also to show how the depiction of colonial relations in these films suggests a revisionist reading of the gender implications of Freud's writing on patriarchal authority, itself firmly embedded in bourgeois modernity; a reading that can be related back to fascist ideology to suggest that the latter was, in a complicated and entirely negative way, a reaction against modernity's grounding in sexual difference.

The relationship between the modern and the pre-modern is especially complex in the case of early Francoism, which was not averse to capitalist modernisation but which sought to eliminate all expressions of cultural modernity (see Richards). Its particular version of conservative modernity utilised the centralised structures of the modern nation-State to suppress ideological and cultural diversity, in an application to the metropolis of the political, legal and military structures that had been elaborated in the colonies. This process was explicitly described by the regime as an "internalisation of empire," implemented by the "army of occupation": both phrases make explicit the colonial dimensions which so frequently underlie domestic programmes of social control but which, in other countries where the terminology is less blatant, can easily go unrecognised. General Franco, whose prodigiously successful military career was forged during ten years serving and leading the colonial army in Spanish Morocco, was quite clear about the colonial origins of his domestic policy: Preston quotes him as saying, "Without Africa, I can scarcely explain myself to myself" (16). A major motive for the Nationalist uprising in July 1936 against the democratically elected Second Republic was army unrest at parliamentary politicians' handling of the 1898 Spanish-American War, which led to the loss of Spain's last significant colonies (Cuba, Puerto Rico, the [End Page 26] Philippines) in a humiliating naval defeat. Francoist rhetoric is shot through with...


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