As promised, here is my translation of the testament of José Antonio Primo de Rivera.
Before we get to the testament itself, however, a bit of context would be helpful. In March 1936, José Antonio was arrested and charged with illegal possession of firearms. In Spain: A Unique History, historian Stanley G. Payne — who, for what it’s worth, is not an admirer of José Antonio — describes this as “an arrest of dubious legality.” He would remain in prison — facing trial after trial for what Payne calls “a series of (sometimes artificial) charges” — until his execution on November 20, 1936. By that time, the Spanish Civil War had been raging for four months.
José Antonio’s execution came on the heels of, and as a result of, his trial for the charge of “conspiracy and military rebellion.” Certainly, there was a military conspiracy and, eventually (in July 1936), a rebellion — the failure of this rebellion to immediately topple the Popular Front government of the Spanish Republic marked the official beginning of the Spanish Civil War (the Popular Front was an alliance of left-wing political parties that came to power in February 1936, in the wake of an election rife with voter fraud). Like many of the earlier charges against José Antonio, the charge with involvement in the conspiracy and rebellion was legally dubious. As Falange Española Digital, a most fascinating blog that I recently discovered, points out, “Given that José Antonio had been in prison for months before the rebellion took place, it is hard to see how he could have taken part in it.”
Not only did José Antonio face sham charges, he also faced a kangaroo court. The jury was deliberately stacked with supporters of the Popular Front.
Remarkably, despite these adverse conditions, José Antonio almost managed to persuade the jury to acquit him!
The jury deliberated for four hours before handing down a “guilty” verdict. According to José Antonio biographer Felipe Ximénez de Sandoval, the jurors’ deliberations ended in a tie vote. The stalemate was broken in a highly irregular manner: “One of the jurors — a socialist with the surname Domenech who worked for the hardware store Panadés y Chorro, in Alicante — imposed, pistol in hand, the death sentence, amid an unspeakable scandal.” Thus did the threat of violence condemn José Antonio Primo de Rivera to death.
While it may seem surprising that José Antonio was almost able to persuade the rigged jury to acquit him, it’s not so surprising if we remember that José Antonio’s ideology was a synthesis of right-wing and left-wing thought. Incidentally, this is why I admire Falangism: it combined the best, and eschewed the worst, of the left and the right. Adapted to the twenty-first century, it could do so again. But I digress. To better understand the core principle of Falangism (and why José Antonio managed to make a positive impression on a very hostile audience), it helps to look at José Antonio’s analysis of the Spanish Left and the Spanish Right, from his open letter to “a Spanish soldier,” which he wrote in November 1934 — that is, just after a failed attempt at violent Communist revolution in Spain:
“The Left is more numerous [than the Right] (don’t forget that the Left includes almost the entirety of the immense Spanish proletariat); more impetuous; more politically astute… but it is anti-national. If we ignore artificial partisan divides, we see that the Left is comprised of two main factions:
- A bourgeoisie, predominantly intellectual. Having been educated abroad and strongly influenced by international institutions, members of this part of the Left are incapable of feeling Spain in the depths of their hearts. Thus, everything which tends to break up national unity has been uncritically accepted by the left-wing media.
- A proletarian mass completely won over to Marxism. Socialist politics, conducted in an extremely persistent and able manner, have almost managed to rake out patriotic emotions from this mass. The Marxist multitudes carry nothing in their spirit except for a baleful conception of life as class struggle. That which is not proletarian does not interest them; as a result, they cannot feel solidarity with any conception of the nation that embraces anything beyond that which is strictly proletarian. Marxism, if it triumphs, will eradicate even the leftist bourgeoisie with which it is currently allied. In this the Russian experience is very instructive.
And the Right? The Right invokes great things: the fatherland, tradition, authority… but they, too, are not truly national. If they were — that is, if they did not hide a class-based interest behind noble words, they would not be entrenched in defense of economically unjust positions. Spain is, for the time being, a rather poor country. In order for the life of the average Spaniard to reach a level of human decency, the more privileged among us must make sacrifices. If the Right (which all of the privileged classes support) had a true sense of national solidarity, they would by now be sharing, through the sacrifice of their material advantages, in the harsh life of the common people. Only then would the Right would have the moral authority to hold itself up as the defender of the great spiritual values. But as long as the Right defends its class interests tooth and nail, its patriotism will sound like empty words, and right-wingers will continue to prove themselves to be as materialistic as the representatives of Marxism.”
Given José Antonio’s clear concern for the well-being of the common people and his biting condemnation of the reactionary Right, it’s not so hard to imagine Marxist revolutionaries being swayed by José Antonio’s testimony from deep hostility to him to a measure of sympathy for him. As the filmmaker José Luis Sáenz de Heredia wrote during a research project for a planned movie about José Antonio,
“The jury, at ten-thirty in the night, has received a questionnaire consisting of twenty-six questions, each of which require only a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. The jury consists of members of the political parties and labor unions of the Popular Front. Thus, they are logically predisposed to render a ‘guilty’ verdict. Given the jurors’ hostile predisposition towards the defendant, it also seems logical that their answers to the twenty-six questions would be a mere formality. Nonetheless, that is not what happens. The hostile jurors have just listened to a man who is not that whom they hate. They (or at least some of them) thought another man, whom they were sure they knew all too well, was on trial. There are no legitimate grounds to hate the man who has just spoken. He is not an idle and lazy aristocrat. Nor is he a pimp, a gunman, or a fascist. And though not all of the jurors, of course, are able to express this in words, there is in him an intangible element of human greatness that transcends the boundaries of logic, goes beyond purity, and touches — one knows not how — one’s heart.”
Without further ado, then, let us turn to the testament of José Antonio:
“Testament written and granted by José Antonio Primo de Rivera y Sáenz de Heredia,
thirty-three years of age, single, attorney, native and resident of Madrid, son of Miguel and Casilda (may they rest in peace), in the Provincial Prison of Alicante, on the eighteenth of November of the year nineteen hundred and thirty-six.
Sentenced to death yesterday, I ask God that if he does not see fit to free me from that fate, that he help me maintain until the end the decorous tranquility with which I foresee that hour and that, when he judges my soul, that he apply not the measure of what I deserve, but rather that of his infinite mercy.
On the one hand, I worry that my desire to leave at this juncture an accounting of some of my deeds may be a manifestation of vanity and excessive attachment to the things of this world. On the other hand, since I have galvanized the faith of many of my comrades to a degree far greater than my own worth (which I know all too well, to the point that I write this phrase with the most straightforward and contrite sincerity), and since I have moved so many of them to take on enormous risks and responsibilities, to leave them behind without any kind of explanation would seem to me to be inconsiderate ingratitude.
It is not necessary that I repeat now what I said and wrote many times about what the founders of the Spanish Falange intended it to be. It amazes me that, even after three years, the vast majority of our compatriots continue to judge us without having begun to even remotely understand us and even without having sought or accepted the slightest bit of information. Should the Falange consolidate itself into something durable, I hope all will be cognizant of the hurt we feel at the fact that so much blood has been shed because, between the fury of one side and the antipathy of the other, no one cared to pay us serene attention. May that split blood forgive me the part I have had in provoking it, and may the comrades that preceded me in making the ultimate sacrifice receive me as the latest of their own.
Yesterday, for the last time, I explained to the Court that was judging me what the Falange is. As on so many occasions, I reviewed and adduced the old texts of our familiar doctrine. Once again, I observed that a great many faces, at first hostile, grew illuminated, first with surprise and then with sympathy. In the expressions on these faces I seemed to read this sentence: “Had we known what this was, we wouldn’t be here!” And indeed, we wouldn’t have been there, nor would I have been before a People’s Court, nor would others be killing themselves across the fields of Spain as I write this. Nonetheless, it was too late to avoid all of this, and I limited myself to reciprocating the loyalty and the valor of my esteemed comrades, winning for them the respectful attention of their enemies.
That was my aim — not to win for myself with tinsel gallantry the posthumous reputation of a hero. I did not claim to be responsible for everything, nor did I resort to any other variant of the romantic stereotype. I defended myself with the best resources of my profession of attorney, which I love so much and which I cultivated with such assiduity. Perchance there will no shortage of posthumous commentators who will fault me for not having preferred the art of the bluff. To each his own. As for myself, aside from the fact that I am not a good actor, it would have been monstrous and cowardly to hand over without a defense a life that could still have been useful and that God did not give me the right to burn in a holocaust of vanity like a display of fireworks. I also aimed to avoid descending to the level of reproachable deceit or to compromise anybody with my defense, as well as to cooperate with the defense of my siblings Margot* and Miguel, who were on trial with me and were threatened with very grave sentences. I thought it advantageous to not only maintain certain silences in the course of my defense, but also to make certain accusations, accusations grounded in the suspicion that the authorities had deliberately isolated me in the middle of a region that to this end had remained submissive. I must declare here that I have not the slightest proof for this suspicion. Though, exasperated by my solitude and desperately seeking explanations for it, I sincerely nourished this suspicion in my spirit, now, just before my death, I cannot and should not maintain it.
Another matter remains for me to clarify. The absolute isolation from all communication in which I have lived since shortly after the beginning of the war was broken solely by an American journalist [Jay Allen], who, with the permission of the authorities, asked me to make a few statements in early October. Until, five or six days ago, I saw the brief filed against me, I have not had knowledge of the statements that were attributed to me, because neither the newspapers that contained them nor any other newspapers were available to me. Reading these statements now, I declare that among the various paragraphs presented as mine, some of which interpret my thought more faithfully than others, there is one that I completely reject: the one that badmouths my comrades of the Falange for cooperating in the rebel movement alongside “foreign mercenaries.” I have never said anything remotely like that, and yesterday I declared as much outright before the Court, although declaring this did not help my case. I cannot defame military forces that have rendered Spain heroic services in Africa. I cannot from here reproach comrades whom I do not know whether they are well- or poorly-led, but who surely try to interpret in good faith my longtime axioms and doctrines. God grant that their arduous commitment is never taken advantage of for any task other than that of building the great Spain of which the Falange dreams.
I wish mine would be the last Spanish blood spilt in civil discords. I wish I could find the Spanish people — so rich in good, endearing qualities, Fatherland, Bread, and Justice — already at peace.
I think I have nothing left to say about my public life. As to my impending death, I await it without swagger — for it is never a happy thing to die at my age — but also without protest. May the Lord our God accept in it what it has of sacrifice to partially compensate for the egotism and vanity I have displayed in much of my life. I forgive with all my soul whomever may have hurt or offended me, without exception, and I pray that all those to whom I owe reparation for any offense, large or small, will forgive me."
*Margarita Larios Fernández de Villavicencio, the wife of José Antonio’s brother Miguel, and therefore José Antonio’s sister-in-law.