The Theory That Farmers Only Protest Because of Hunger Is Now Completely Outdated

Not all resistance to Francoism took the form of organized political opposition. Agriculture articulated its own ways of expressing dissent with the regime, different from those of the city. But he did not give in to silence.

Historiography has long banished clichés about peasants as submissive beings unable to protest unless hunger prone. But the prejudices are still alive, especially if all forms of social mobilization are conceived as a mere result of the initiative of an elite. There were, during the Franco regime, many ways to express dissent with the regime. Ways of daily resistance that hindered or prevented the authorities from carrying out their projects. And that, in some way, they contributed to eroding the dictatorship and laying pillars for the construction of democracy. This is what professor and historian Ana Cabana talks about in her latest essay, ‘La derrota de lo épico’ (University of Valencia). We retrieve the full version of this interview, part of which was published in the report ‘Neither submissive nor heroine’ in the first issue of Luzes magazine.

The book delves into an issue that was already in your previous book ‘People of Order’: the forms of civil resistance, what Scott called “everyday resistance”. What are the main features that distinguish this type of resistance from that carried out by anti-Franco political organizations?

The previous book, ‘People of Order’, was a study on consent. This is about resistance. There are mainly two differences between daily resistance and political opposition. One is intentionality. The first does not aspire to end the regime, while the second does. The other difference is visibility. The anti-Franco struggle leaves clear traces both in the society of the time and in the sources that historians use today. We are clear about who the leaders are, their ideologies, their actions. On the contrary, everyday resistance is virtually invisible when it goes well. In fact, it is reflected in the documentation only if it “goes wrong”, that is, when punished by the authorities. But it has in its nature to be silent, hidden, and dazzling.

Like your previous books, ‘La derrota de lo épico’ answers the topic of the rural submissive to the policies of the Franco regime. But he also doesn’t want to magnify the resistance. Nor does it reduce everything to a mere pragmatic adaptation that does not threaten the structures of domination. How do adaptation – what you dealt with in ‘Order People’ – and resistance relate to each other?

These are the social attitudes in which most of the Spanish and Galician population debated during the Franco regime. There was a group of clear opponents of the regime and another of addicts to it. But most of the population struggled in their day-to-day lives between offering attitudes of consent, agreeing, or activating actions that showed discontent and protest. One could be very Catholic and consent to certain guidelines of the Franco regime because he had one of his pillars in the Church, but at another time show total passivity or rejection of certain agricultural policies of the regime. The same subject can show both faces, that of consent and that of resistance, depending on the policy or action of the regime. They are not at all stable attitudes, neither in time nor in the subject.

And how do forms of civil resistance erode the structures of Franco’s domination, even if their goal is not to end the regime?

For there are cases in which state stipulations are delayed or damaged to some degree, an obvious case of the reforestation policy carried out in the neighboring mountains via fires and slow work. Either the establishment of lawsuits or the non-delivery of agricultural production for requisitions or the diversion of the same to the black market. Even sometimes we see that their apathy, sloppiness or refusal to participate prevent certain projects from going ahead. This is the case of the Mutua gandeira, of many of the cooperatives, of the creation of the rural police within the union Brotherhoods… In other cases what we have is that they create discontent or uneasiness between the authorities – with rumors, sayings… -. In any case, one of the important elements is the degree of relief they cause in the subjects who star in them.

You explain, moreover, that these forms of resistance go beyond the instinctive reaction to secure sustenance, as they involve, for example, a certain organization. What were the main motivations for these resistances?

For a long time historiography assumed that peasants acted only because of their empty stomachs, that hunger was the only reason why peasants were exposed to protest before the state or the dominant social groups. This theory today is totally outdated and we know that protests have a lot to do with much more cultural aspects like affecting their identity, breaking with the logics of subsistence and reproduction, or assigning meanings to things. This was the substantial leap that was made in historiography and that allows us to talk about the logics of communities and not just their anger.

In what way do both the memory of the agrarian mobilizations before 1936 and the historical experience of the peasant mobilizations that came from the Old Regime influence what happens in the 1940s and 1950s? In what way do you think they could have influenced the agrarian mobilizations of the late Franco regime?

It’s tricky to sum up. But I would say that past struggles have created a culture of resistance, a way that seemed “normal” for being the usual way for parents and grandparents to protest. Depending on the historical conjuncture, that is, on whether there is more or less freedom, protest repertoires change opening up to new formulas. In the case of the late Franco regime, for example, the tractor was an innovation. In the case of the Franco regime the total lack of space to show dissent with respect to the regime and the high cost of doing so, ie repression, made the protest repertoire no longer show very visible forms that had been activated in the first third of the twentieth century and if the most consolidated repertoire had been activated and, therefore, had shown that it was feasible to show discontent in a not at all democratic state: riots, refusals to make different payments, go to court, send letters to authorities with petitions and complaints, spread rumors …

Divide into three periods the evolution of the forms of resistance and opposition. In the second, second part of the 50’s and 60’s, civil resistance predominates, as opposed to the previous stage, in which a form of opposition represented by the guerrillas flourishes, and the later stage, in which the opposition of clandestine organizations is formed. What factors, in the sense of the theory of social movements of Tarrow and others, favored the expansion of civil resistance in this second stage?

Certainly, Tarrow points out that the perception of the weakness of power by the population makes social groups consider the possibilities of radicalizing their protest actions. In the immediate postwar period there was some confidence in the armed resistance led by the guerrillas and also in the chances that once the Allies had won World War II they would intervene against the Franco regime and encouraged opposition. As in the late Franco era, when they began to feel the many weaknesses of the system. But in the fifties and sixties the reality was that the power of the regime was seen as omnipresent while it was known that the costs of any mobilization were very high, so high that added to the lack of hope for change, made the opposition give up and let everything dissent had been expressed via daily resistance.

He emphasizes that the study of daily resistance makes it possible to explain reality better than the schemes that reduce everything to collusion with fascism or, on the contrary, to repression. In the same way that you point out that the theory of social movements has often failed to understand the autonomy with which peasant societies have acted.

Certainly, my research draws on the work done by authors who demystified that social movements were the only ones through which protest and population discontent could be observed. That it is the formula that is most usually used in the urban environment and in the working reality has made contemporaries try to have social movements as a yardstick for discontent, but this does not work in the rural world, where their own logics and cultures work in other ways. of making them feel dissatisfied with the state or with the social groups that hold power.

The defeat of the epic

What are the main common features of active and institutional resistance? What makes them different?

I categorize as open resistance, to be synthesized, that which the subjects acted with the clear intention and determination to make their dissent visible. That is, any farmer knew that, if he carried out this protest, his challenge would be evident in the eyes of the Administration, and yet he protested. This is the case of those who refused to deliver their harvests to the National Wheat Service or those who were part of riots such as Tordoia No. 43, when farmers in five parishes decided to recover from the warehouse the corn they had delivered as a compulsory quota or those (and those!) who refused to pay the fee of the Brotherhood of Farmers even when the institution, after many defaults, sent the Civil Guard and a collecting agent, as did those of Verducido (Pontevedra).

As for institutionalized resistance is that which is part of the Administration of its protest. That is, they use the channels that the regime leaves open for protest, such as going to court to file a lawsuit or writing a complaint or protest form. What is interesting is that the population often uses loopholes left by Franco’s institutions to curb their own provisions. For example, in 1947 almost all the residents of Abadín filed a lawsuit against their mayor for making the amillaración, in the same year, those of five parishes also sued him because he wanted them to pay contributions on the use of the mountain and in the same year , residents of another parish sued the mayor because he wanted to change the layout of a road. Thus, courts and letters of complaint have often been used to harass and report local authorities and report abuses.

Symbolic resistance is, dis, one of the least appreciated and studied. What impact did it have on the erosion of the legitimacy of the Francoist authorities?

Well, on this issue the issue of “measuring” impacts is tremendously complex. No one can know. What seems certain is that the authorities were almost obsessed with controlling the realm of the symbolic: that everyone made the fascist salute, attended Mass, etc. and retaliated and fiercely denounced the samples that denoted lack of allegiance and obedience to the regime as they could be the cursing rumors, the insults to the authorities, the satirical songs about the regime, the mocking songs, and so on. etc. In this case the popular tradition served much and classic jokes were adapted renewing their letter to serve as denunciation.

When you talk about the protagonists of these modes of resistance, you underline for example their conformation above social class differences. And he points out the ambiguous attitude of the local authorities: sometimes complicit in the Franco regime, and sometimes complicit in the residents protesting against the state. How was that?

Local authorities had a dual identity, so to speak, they were power transmission belts but they were also residents of the locality in which they lived and therefore had certain interests and networks that sometimes opposed or contradicted the mandates of state power. In these cases, the mayors chose between being an addicted Francoist or being a neighbor and protecting certain issues. When exercising as a drive belt they curbed daily root resistance via arrests or fines. When their interests as neighbors prevailed because sometimes they supported the daily resistance (they did not stop anyone in the riots, they did not say the names of those who had broken the order, etc.). In any case, everyone was very clear about the extent to which their collaborating role should have and never went beyond a certain kind treatment to those who protested as long as it did not mean a loss of their own authority and the regime they represented.

You also interpret passivity as a possible door to resistance. How is this? How does that interpretation help to answer the idea of ​​the submissive, conservative, backward farmer…? How did these topics spread by the Franco regime permeate the vision of the reality of the anti-Franco urban left itself?

Francoism in many cases only asked for passivity from the people, but in many others it demanded enthusiastic adherence and, in these, in case of passivity, they conceived it as resistance and punished it. That passivity of the peasants dismantled activities that the state wanted to carry out. A very clear case was the cooperatives, which because of the lack of interest shown were only real a few. The rest were just on paper. The same happened in the visits of leaders of the Movement, in which the mayors and local authorities worked hard to find enthusiastic “fans” who cheered, carried banners, and so on. etc. and they achieved nothing, with which they later lamented in the parts that they had to give of the “cold and passive atmosphere” of many places of rural Galicia with the Phalange.

As for the widespread topic of submissive and conservative farmers I think that even today there is still a certain landing of this assumption. In any case, the reality struggles to be uncomfortable, and certainly, if the transition from dictatorship to transition is not explicable without the social mobilization of cities, neither is it without the struggles and demands of the rural. In the conquest of democracy, neither is dispensable if we are to understand the process.

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