Revolutionary Spain by Karl Marx 1854

First Published: in New-York Daily Tribune, September 259, 1854.


We have already laid before our readers a survey of the earlier revolutionary history of Spain, as a means of understanding and appreciating the developments which that nation is now offering to the observation of the world. Still more interesting, and perhaps equally valuable as a source of present instruction, is the great national movement that attended the expulsion of the Bonapartes, and restored the Spanish Crown to the family in whose possession it yet remains. But to rightly estimate that movement, with its heroic episodes and memorable exhibition of vitality in a people supposed to be moribund, we must go back to the beginning of the Napoleonic assault on the nation. The efficient cause of the whole was perhaps first stated in the treaty of Tilsit. which was concluded on July 7, 1807, and is said to have received its complement through a secret convention, signed by Prince Kurakin and Talleyrand. It was published in the Madrid Gaceta on August 25, 1812, containing, among other things, the following stipulations:

Art. I. Russia is to take possession of European Turkey, and to extend her possessions in Asia as far as she may think it convenient.

Art. II. The Bourbon dynasty in Spain and the house of Braganza in Portugal will cease to reign. Princes of the Bonaparte family will succeed to both of these crowns.”

Supposing this treaty to be authentic, and its authenticity is scarcely disputed, even in the recently published memoirs of King Joseph Bonaparte, it formed the true reason for the French invasion of Spain in 1808, while the Spanish commotions of that time would seem to be linked by secret threads with the destinies of Turkey.

When, consequent upon the Madrid massacre and the transactions at Bayonne, simultaneous insurrections broke out in Asturias, Galicia, Andalusia and Valencia, and a French army occupied Madrid, the four northern fortresses of Pamplona, San Sebastian, Figueras and Barcelona had been seized by Bonaparte under false pretenses; part of the Spanish army had been removed to the island of Fünen, destined for an attack upon Sweden; lastly, all the constituted authorities, military, ecclesiastic, judicial and administrative, as well as the aristocracy, exhorted the people to submit to the foreign intruder. But there was one circumstance to compensate for all the difficulties of the situation. Thanks to Napoleon, the country was rid of its King, its royal family, and its government. Thus the shackles were broken which might else have prevented the Spanish people from displaying their native energies. How little they were able to resist the French under the command of their Kings and under ordinary circumstances, had been proved by the disgraceful campaigns of 1794 and 1795.

Napoleon had summoned the most distinguished persons in Spain to meet him at Bayonne, and to receive from his hands a King and a Constitution. With very few exceptions, they appeared there. On June 7, 1808, King Joseph received at Bayonne a deputation of the grandees of Spain, in whose name the Duke of Infantado, Ferdinand VII’s most intimate friend, addressed him as follows:

“Sire, the grandees of Spain have at all times been celebrated for their loyalty to their Sovereign, and in them your Majesty will now find the same fidelity and adhesion.”

The royal Council of Castile assured poor Joseph that “he was the principal branch of a family destined by Heaven to reign.” Not less abject was the congratulation of the Duke del Parque, at the head of a deputation representing the army. On the following day the same persons published a proclamation, enjoining general submission to the Bonaparte dynasty. On July 7, 1808, the new Constitution was signed by 91 Spaniards of the highest distinction; among them Dukes, Counts and Marquises, as well as several heads of the religious orders. During the discussions on that Constitution, all they found cause to remonstrate against was the repeal of their old privileges and exemptions. The first Ministry and the first royal household of Joseph were the same persons who had formed the ministry and the royal household of Ferdinand VII. Some of the upper classes considered Napoleon as the providential regenerator of Spain; others as the only bulwark against revolution; none believing in the chances of national resistance.

Thus from the very beginning of the Spanish War of Independence the high nobility and the old Administration lost all hold upon the middle classes and upon the people, because of their having deserted them at the commencement of the struggle. On the one side stood the Afrancesados (the Frenchified), and on the other the nation. At Valladolid, Cartagena, Granada, Jaen, San Lucar, Carolina, Ciudad Rodrigo, Cadiz and Valencia, the most prominent members of the old Administration — governors, generals, and other marked personages presumed to be French agents and obstacles to the national movement — fell victims to the infuriated people. Everywhere the existing authorities were displaced. Some months previous to the rising, on March 19, 1808, the popular commotions that had taken place at Madrid, intended to remove from their posts El Choricero (the sausage-maker, a nickname of Godoy) and his obnoxious satellites. This object was now gained on a national scale, and with it the internal revolution was accomplished so far as contemplated by the masses, and as not connected with resistance to the foreign intruder. On the whole, the movement appeared to be directed rather against revolution than for it. National by proclaiming the independence of Spain from France, it was at the same time dynastic by opposing the “beloved” Ferdinand VII to Joseph Bonaparte; reactionary by opposing the old institutions, customs, and laws to the rational innovations of Napoleon; superstitious and fanatical by opposing “holy religion,” against what was called French Atheism, or the destruction of the special privileges of the Roman Church. The priests, terrified by the fate that had fallen upon their brethren in France, fostered the popular passions in the interest of self-preservation.

“The patriotic fire,” says Southey, “flamed higher for this holy oil of superstition.”

All the wars of independence waged against France bear in common the stamp of regeneration, mixed up with reaction; but nowhere to such a degree as in Spain. The King appeared in the imagination of the people in the light of a romantic prince, forcibly abused and locked up by a giant robber. The most fascinating and popular epochs of their past were encircled with the holy and miraculous traditions of the war of the cross against the crescent; and a great portion of the lower classes were accustomed to wear the livery of mendicants and live upon the sanctified patrimony of the Church. A Spanish author, Don José Clemente Carnicero, published in the years 1814 and ’16, the following series of works: Napoleon, the True Don Quixote of Europe; Principal Events of the Glorious Revolution of Spain; The Inquisition Rightly Re-established; it is sufficient to note the titles of these books to understand this one aspect of the Spanish revolution which we meet with in the several manifestoes of the provincial juntas, all of them proclaiming the King, their holy religion, and the country, and some even telling the people that

“their hopes of a better world were at stake, and in very imminent danger.”

However, if the peasantry, the inhabitants of small inland cities, and the numerous army of the mendicants, frocked and unfrocked, all of them deeply imbued with religious and political prejudices, formed the great majority of the national party, it contained on the other hand an active and influential minority which considered the popular rising against the French invasion as the signal given for the political and social regeneration of Spain. This minority was composed of the inhabitants of the seaports, commercial towns, and part of the provincial capitals, where, under the reign of Charles V the material conditions of modern society had developed themselves to a certain degree. They were strengthened by the more cultivated portion of the upper and middle classes, authors, physicians, lawyers, and even priests, for whom the Pyrenees had formed no sufficient barrier against the invasion of the philosophy of the XVIIIth century. As a true manifesto of this faction may be considered the famous memorandum of Jovellanos on the improvements of agriculture and the agrarian law, published in 1795, and drawn up by order of the royal Council of Castile. There was, finally, the youth of the middle classes, such as the students of the University, who had eagerly adopted the aspirations and principles of the French Revolution, and who, for a moment, even expected to see their country regenerated by the assistance of France.

So long as the common defense of the country alone was concerned, the two great elements composing the national party remained in perfect union. Their antagonism did not appear till they met together in the Cortes, on the battleground of a new Constitution there to be drawn up. The revolutionary minority, in order to foment the patriotic spirit of the people, had not hesitated themselves to appeal to the national prejudices of the old popular faith. Favorable to the immediate objects of national resistance, as these tactics might have appeared, they could not fail to prove fatal to this minority when the time had arrived for the conservative interests of the old society to intrench themselves behind these very prejudices and popular passions, with a view of defending themselves against the proper and ulterior plans of the revolutionists.

When Ferdinand left Madrid upon the summons of Bonaparte, he had established a Supreme Junta of government under the Presidency of the Infante Don Antonio. But in May this junta had already disappeared. There existed then no central government, and the insurgent towns formed juntas of their own, presided over by those of the provincial capitals. These provincial juntas constituted, as it were, so many independent governments, each of which set on foot an army of its own. The Junta of Representatives at Oviedo declared that the entire sovereignty had devolved into their hands, proclaimed war against Bonaparte, and sent deputies to England to conclude an armistice. The same was done afterward by the Junta of Seville. It is a curious fact that by the mere force of circumstances these exalted Catholics were driven to an alliance with England, a power which the Spaniards were accustomed to look upon as the incarnation of the most damnable heresy, and little better than the Grand Turk himself. Attacked by French Atheism, they were thrown into the arms of British Protestantism. No wonder that Ferdinand VII, on his return to Spain, declared, in a decree re-establishing the Holy Inquisition, that one of the causes

“that had altered the purity of religion in Spain was the sojourn of foreign troops of different sects, all of them equally infected with hatred against the holy Roman Church.”

The provincial juntas which had so suddenly sprung into life, altogether independent of each other, conceded a certain, but very slight and undefined degree of ascendancy to the Supreme Junta of Seville, that city being regarded as the capital of Spain while Madrid was in the hands of the foreigner. Thus a very anarchical kind of federal government was established, which the shock of opposite interests, local jealousies, and rival influences made a rather bad instrument for bringing unity into the military command, and to combine the operations of a campaign.

The addresses to the people issued by these several juntas, while displaying all the heroic vigor of a people suddenly awakened from a long lethargy and roused by an electric shock into a feverish state of activity, are not free from that pompous exaggeration, that style of mingled buffoonery and bombast, and that redundant grandiloquence which caused Sismondi to put upon Spanish literature the epithet of Oriental. They exhibit no less the childish vanity of the Spanish character, the members of the juntas for instance assuming the title of Highness and loading themselves with gaudy uniforms.

There are two circumstances connected with these juntas — the one showing the low standard of the people at the time of their rising, while the other was detrimental to the progress of the revolution. The juntas were named by general suffrage; but “the very zeal of the lower classes displayed itself in obedience.” They generally elected only their natural superiors, the provincial nobility and gentry backed by clergymen and very few notabilities of the middle class. So conscious were the people of their own weakness that they limited their initiative to forcing the higher classes into resistance against the invader, without pretending to share in the direction of that resistance. At Seville, for instance, “the first thought of the people was that the parochial clergy and the heads of the Convents should assemble to choose the members of the junta.” Thus the juntas were filled with persons chosen on account of their previous station, and very far from being revolutionary leaders. On the other hand, the people when appointing these authorities did not think either of limiting their power or of fixing a term to their duration. The juntas, of course, thought only of extending the one and of perpetuating the other. Thus these first creations of the popular impulse at the commencement of the revolution remained during its whole course as so many dykes against the revolutionary current when threatening to overflow.

On July 20, 1808, when Joseph Bonaparte entered Madrid, 14,000 French, under Generals Dupont and Vedel, were forced by Castańos to lay down their arms at Bailén, and Joseph a few days afterward had to retire from Madrid to Burgos. There were two events besides which greatly encouraged the Spaniards; the one being the expulsion of Lefebvre from Saragossa by General Palafox, and the other the arrival of the army of the Marquis de la Romana, at Coruńa, with 7,000 men, who had embarked from the island of Fünen in spite of the French, in order to come to the assistance of their country.

It was after the battle of Bailén that the revolution came to a head, and that part of the high nobility who had accepted the Bonaparte dynasty or wisely kept back, came forward to join the popular cause — an advantage to that cause of a very doubtful character.