October 17, 2019

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Spanish-speaking migrants in Catalonia after dictatorship were not part of Franco's administration, but anti-fascist resistance

Arqueòleg Glamurós

10.07.2019 – 21:28

‘Personal card’ identity document prior to DNI | INE

A part of Catalan nationalism, probably very minority, has long echoed an unfounded legend, according to which the Spanish-speaking migration movement in Catalonia during the Franco dictatorship was part of a secret plan of the fascist state in order to colonize Catalonia and dissolve Catalan language and culture.

This myth has had some echo from 2016 with the disclosure of the Manifesto of the Koiné Group, which said:

“The dictatorial regime of General Franco, however, completed this process of forced bilingualism in two generations through (…) the use of immigration from Spanish-speaking territories as an involuntary instrument of linguistic colonization”.

This theory has found some support in the political environment of the current President of the Generalitat Quim Torra, who had already expressed himself in similar terms in several articles published before carrying out his current position. Next I will dedicate myself to demonstrating why this theory is not more than a misrepresentation of the past without the slightest spark of truth.

1) The xenophobic prejudices against Spanish-speaking migrants are pre-Francoist

The first wave of peninsular immigration in Catalonia in the twentieth century took place between 1920 and 1930 following the demand of workforce in the metro works and the 1929 Universal Exposition. In the first place, the newcomers were Aragonese and Valencians, but they were quickly followed by Murcian and Andalusian people, especially from Almeria (1).

Between 1932 and 1933 the prominent journalist and politician Carles Sentís (2) (activist of Acció Catalana, a conservative Catalanist party and, already in the transition period, a member of the UCD), published a series of articles in the magazine Mirador under the title “Murcia exportadora de hombres”, where he said that the migrants would end up making Catalonia Castilian, ensuring that “we are the only civilized country that sees with indifference the dangers of various dimensions involved in uncontrolled immigrant attacks and contemplates with a schizophrenic expression how every day they undermine the peculiar racial, economic, and social, moral characteristics”.

The Magazines Fortitud i Llibertat, linked to the Estat Català environment, published several articles in 1933 focusing on the Murcian migrants as of “virulent plague, thieves, undisciplined and perverse” (3).

Remember, Catalan, that you receive impositions of foreign people and that even your brother suffers from hunger because a foreigner just occupies your place. Catalan! This place belongs to you.

Also in 1933, the humoristic weekly El Bé Negre accused in various vignettes the Murcian people of spreading trachoma and willing to invade Catalonia. Already in 1934 a manifesto “For the conservation of the Catalan race” was published where different persons, such as Pompeu Fabra, proposed to look after the preservation of the racial characteristics of the Catalan population, given the danger of mixing with the genes of the migrant people (4). In 1935 the Catalan economist and founder of the Catalan Society of Eugenics, Josep Antoni Vandellós (5) warned that Catalonia was full of foreign nuclei that would end up diluting the language.

2) Franco did not promote immigration in Catalonia, but tried to prevent it

One of the first priorities of Franco’s dictatorship was to establish effective control over the territory and its entire population. Therefore, it was essential to restrict as much as possible any migratory movement that would hamper the social identification of the defeated or allow their anonymity. Since the borders had been closed militarily with the war, the easiest way to escape political repression was internal immigration. In 1939, a system of massive immobilization of the population was launched, closing borders, controlling displacements and deporting any internal migrant without permission (6) to their place of origin.

One of the first measures to control internal immigration and avoid anonymity and changes of identity was the imposition in 1944 of the National Identity Document (DNI), with a format inspired by the police records, with photography and fingerprints. In this way, direct control was taken from the central state of the place of residence and domicile of each individual (7). During the postwar period, for any internal movement within Spain, it was necessary to have a safe-conduct issued by the municipal authorities, or by the single party FET-JONS, even if they were short stays or within the same province.

Francoism criminalizes internal migrants in the 40s, when migration is linked to crime, begging and living in shacks, as did, for example, the journalist Falangist José Esteban Vilaró with his articles in 1940 in Barcelona (8). The Franco regime, even got to subsidize a film by Falangist filmmaker Antonio Nieves Conde, called “Surcos. La lucha por la libertad “(1951), in which the rural population was encouraged not to leave their villages in the face of the dangers of large cities.

In 1952, the Civil Governor of Barcelona, ​​Felipe Acedo Colunga, issued a circular in which he ordered mayors and police chiefs to prevent any migratory movement without authorized housing, in order to avoid living in shacks. Thus, the police started to stop migrants at the station of France and those who could not prove that they had their homes or work in Catalonia were detained and locked in the Pavilion of Missions in Montjuïc, to be deported later to their village of origin. It is estimated that more than 15,000 people were deported between 1952 and 1957 (9).

As of 1957 the Franco regime surrenders and accepts that the migratory movement is impossible to control and tries to regularize living in shacks through the Ministry of Housing.

3) The migratory movement during the Franco regime did not have Barcelona as the sole or principal destination

While it is true that the metropolitan area of ​​Barcelona is the main point of attraction for internal emigration in the early twentieth century, with 596,264 people arrived between 1911-1935, this was quite more relative during the Franco regime. The peak moment of migrations occurred during the 60s, when 3.5 million Spanish citizens changed their place of residence. Of these, 660,274 are displaced in the province of Barcelona (including migrants from rural Catalonia), which accounts for only 18.8% of the total.

In fact, the province of Madrid has more, 701,105. Other provinces that are recipients of the migratory movement are Valencia (209,467), Vizcaya (161,127) and Alicante (128,632). The rest of the Catalan provinces have a total of 122.693 migrant people in total, although the province of Lérida has a negative migratory balance of -11,847 people (10).

Internal migration in Catalonia, from rural regions to industrial areas around Barcelona in the 60s, is estimated around 36,600 people (5.5% of the total). We find internal migratory movements included in the province of Barcelona, ​​especially in the counties of Bages and El Berguedà to the Vallès.

But the internal migration was not the only migratory current in the Franco regime. After the civil war, the regime restricts migration and denies the issuance of passports, with few exceptions, in order to avoid the escape of political dissidents, as well as the flight of currency. But in 1946 the Franco regime allowed emigration to Latin America, as it dreams of restoring lost imperial ties with the ex-colonies. A total of 560,215 people went to the American continent between 1940 and 1958, mainly in Argentina (40%) and Venezuela (31%) (11).

In the 60s, however, emigration flows change America for Europe. In 1956 the Spanish Institute of Emigration was created to channel outer migration to Europe. According to the official figures, a million people went to work in other European countries, especially in the Federal Republic of Germany (34.9%), Switzerland (38.5%) and France (20.8%), between 1959 and 1973. But these official figures hide the movements of clandestine emigrants who used illegal networks and family contacts to leave the country. If we take data from the recipient countries, the figures would be 51% higher, reaching one and a half million (12).

4) The real causes of migration during the Franco regime

Far from forming part of any secret conspiracy to dilute Catalan culture, internal immigration to Barcelona has political causes (people who fled from the vengeful repression from the winners of the Civil War in their villages, especially in the 40-50 years), but above all they are economic and demographic.

In the 60s there was a demographic explosion in Spain, similar to the one that happens in the US with the “baby boom” after World War II, although of smaller dimensions. The rate of population growth reaches the highest historical level in the 20th century with 1.2% annual growth, going from 30 million inhabitants in 1960 to 33.8 million in 1970. Never in history there has been a growth of similar proportions in Spain.

The areas of origin of migration are the provinces with the lowest income per capita and with a greater dependence on agriculture. After the end of the war, the Franco regime strengthens the power structures in the Andalusian and Extremadura countryside, with large estates with an elite of owners and a large mass of wage labor, who suffered a great chronic unemployment, with great periods of a single year without income The modernization and mechanization of agricultural tasks from 1956, with the first tractor factories in Getafe and Barcelona, ​​led to a fall in the demand for manual labor force in the fields and the fall of wages at levels of misery.

On the other hand, reception areas were the urban centers with the highest per capita income and which already had industrialization centers prior to the dictatorship: Madrid, Barcelona and Bilbao. In 1959 the Franco regime made a radical turn in its economic policy, ending with autarchy and state control of the economy, promoting liberalism, encouraging private initiative with the well-known Stabilization Plan that gives way to the “developmentalism” period. International trade is restored, especially raw materials and foreign capital arrives, mainly from the USA, Switzerland and Germany.

Spain becomes a very profitable place to invest, due to low wages, strict labor regulation and low taxation. Another factor for the economic expansion is the increase of domestic demand, because the same rural migrants, when having a fixed wage in the factories, increase their capacity of consumption. Spain goes through the 60s to export industrial products instead of agricultural ones. Another factor of growth is tourism, from 2.5 million visitors in 1955 to 24 million in 1970. Construction is also a growth factor; this is the time where large housing estates are erected at outskirts of big cities (13).

5) Spanish-speaking migrants are not part of Franco’s administration, but anti-fascist resistance

Both the municipal administration and the local nuclei of the Falange in Catalonia, throughout the dictatorship, were formed, with few exceptions, from Catalans with a long family roots in their municipality. The mayors, councilors, political officers and local Falangists were distinguished local figures (notaries, pharmacists, lawyers, industrialists …) from the right-wing parties of the Republic (Carlists, Regionalist League, Catalan Action, traditionalists or Catholics) and exercising their activities at the same place where they lived before the war (14).

The Franco regime had always feared that the conditions of social exploitation to which the proletarian migration and living in shacks were subjected would end up generating a leftist resistance center on the regime around Barcelona, ​​because Franco always feared much more an active and robust communist resistance than a conservative Catalan nationalism. In a paper issued by the National Council of the Movement in 1971, it was proposed that “a hostile linguistic environment, with a lack of economic resources, with decent housing and poor culture, makes it very difficult the social integration, running the grave risk of letting the victory (…) at the hands of ideologies which took so much of our homeland blood to uproot”(15).

Already during the Republic and the Civil War, some of the main leaders of the CNT-FAI in Catalonia were of migrant origin, such as Buenaventurra Durruti, a mechanic born in León, or Francisco Ascaso, a waiter born in Almudévar (Huesca), among many others of Catalan origin.

Many newcomers will be part of the social, political, trade union and neighborhood movements that are contrary to the dictatorship. As an example, the Secretary General of the PSUC between 1956 and 1985, was named Gregorio Lopez Raimundo and was a tailor born in Tauste (province of Zaragoza). He was arrested and tortured following the 1951 tram strike, he was elected MP to the Congress for the PSUC in the first two legislatures. Another leader of the PSUC and founder of CCOO in Catalonia was Cipriano García Sánchez, born in Manzanares de la Mancha (province of Ciudad Real), who was tried on a court-martial for demonstrating in Terrassa because of the arrest of Jordi Pujol.

The PSUC, a party which led without any doubt the anti-Franco resistance in Catalonia, promoted social cohesion between Spanish-speakers and Catalan speakers with the motto “We are only one people” and fought to restore the Generalitat of Catalonia and the normalization of Catalan language.

In April 1979, the first democratic municipal elections were held after the dictatorship. All major Catalan cities receiving migrants elected Communist and Socialist mayors, with no exception. A paradigmatic case is El Prat de Llobregat, which during the dictatorship had passed from 8,941 inhabitants in 1940 to 60,139 in 1981. El Prat elected the communist Antonio Martín Sanchez (PSUC) as the first democratic mayor, born in Palma del Rio (Córdoba) and a worker from the age of 15.

All the pro-Franco mayors who return to present themselves as candidates in democracy do so in rural populations that had received virtually no immigration during the dictatorship. The political formation which recycles most of the Francoist mayors in democracy was CiU, 95 of 215 (43.3%), far above the UCD that recycles 22, or the Alianza Popular which only absorbs 10. An example would be Josep Gomis, the Francoist mayor of Montblanc and attorney for the Francoist Cortes, who in democracy is once again mayor for CiU and will also be the President of the Diputació de Tarragona, MP for CIU in the Congress, minister of interior and Delegate of the Generalitat in Madrid.

Desmontando el mito de los «colonos franquistas»


1) CAMÓS, Joan (2009) “L’Hospitalet i la immigració. Catalanistes i anarquistes als anys trenta”, Quaderns d’Estudi, nº21, p. 71-83
2) SENTÍS, Carles (2006). Memòries d’un espectador 1911-1950. Ed. La Campana.
3) Llibertat, 5/10/1933
4) VIDAL-FOLCH, Xavier “Catalunya es xarnega”. El País, 12/4/2016
5) VANDELLÓS, Josep Antoni (1935) La Immigració a Catalunya.
6) MARÍN, Martí (2015) “Migrantes, fronteras y fascismos. El control de los desplazamientos por parte del régimen franquista, 1939-1965”, Spagna Contemporanea, nº 47, p. 79-94
7) MARÍN, Martí (2010) “La gestación del Documento Nacional de identidad: un proyecto de control totalitario para la España Franquista”, Novísima: II Congreso Internacional de Historia de Nuestro Tiempo.
8) VILARÓ, José Esteban (1940) “Un mundo insospechado en Barcelona”.
9) BOJ, Imma (2004) “El Pabellón de las misiones: la represión de la immigración en la Cataluña franquista”, IV Congrés sobre la immigració a Espanya, Girona. 
10) BURBANO, Francisco Andrés (2013) Las migraciones internas durante el franquismo y sus efectos sociales: el caso de Barcelona, Treball de llicenciatura inèdit, UCM. 
11) PALAZÓN, Salvador (1992) “La emigración española a América latina durante el primer franquismo (1939-1959) interrupción y reanudación de una corriente tradicional”, Anales de la Universidad de Alicante: Historia contemporánea, nº 8.9. p. 215-232
12) CALVO, Luis M. et alii (2009) Historia del Instituto Español de Emigración, La política migratoria exterior de España y el IEE del Franquismo a la Transición, Ministerio de Trabajo e Immigración. 
13) PALAZÓN, Salvador (1992) “La emigración española a América latina durante el primer franquismo (1939-1959) interrupción y reanudación de una corriente tradicional”, Anales de la Universidad de Alicante: Historia contemporánea, nº 8.9. p. 215-232
14) MARÍN, Martí. (2000) Els ajuntaments franquistes a Catalunya. Política i administració municipal, 1938-1979. Lleida: Pagès Ed. 
15) SANTACANA, Carles (2000) El franquisme i els catalans: els informes del Consejo Nacional del Movimiento (1962-1971), Catarroja: Afers.

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