Revolutionary Spain by Karl Marx 1854


Written: by Marx on November 14, 1854;
Source: MECW Volume 15, p. 621, text according to the newspaper;
First published: in the New-York Daily Tribune, March 23, 1855.

M. de Chateaubriand, in his Congrès de Vérone, accuses the Spanish Revolution of 1820-23 of having been nothing but a servile parody of the first French Revolution, performed on the Madrid stage, and in Castilian costumes. He forgets that the struggles of different peoples emerging from the feudal state of society, and moving toward middle class civilization, cannot be supposed to differ in anything but the peculiar coloring derived from race, nationality, language, stage customs and costumes. His censure reminds us of the foolish old woman who strongly suspected all enamored girls of mimicking her own better days.

A whole library has been written pro and con upon the Constitution of 1812, the proclamation of which, in 1820, gave rise to a three years’ struggle between the prejudices and interests of the old society and the wants and aspirations of the new one. The Constitution of 1812 had strongly impressed upon it that same stamp of impracticability which characterizes all charters originally drawn up by modern nations at the epoch of their regeneration. At the revolutionary epoch, to which they owe their origin, they are impracticable, not in consequence of this or that paragraph, but simply because of their constitutional nature. At the Constitutional epoch they are out of place, because of their being impregnated with the generous delusions, inseparable from the dawn of social regeneration. The French Constitution of 1791, for instance, at its own time justly considered to be reactionary, would have been found guilty of Jacobinism in 1830. Why so? In 1791 the royal power and the ruling forces of the ancient society it represented, had not yet undergone those transformations which were to enable them to enter into combination with, and to take place within the elements of the new society. What was then wanted was revolutionary action to break down the resistance of the old society, and not a Constitution sanctioning an impossible compromise with it. In 1830, on the contrary, when limited monarchy had become possible, it was generally understood that it meant the rule of the bourgeoisie instead of the emancipation of the people. The Constitution of 1791 must then have appeared an incendiary anachronism. The same argument holds good for the Spanish Constitution of 1812, but there is still that distinction to be drawn between France in 1791, and Spain in 1820, that the Constitution of 1791 only pretended to make a halt, in a two years’ revolutionary march, while the Constitution of 1812 was to supersede revolution altogether. Spain, the day before an Oriental despotism, was to be a day later — a democracy with a monarch at its head. Such sudden changes belong exclusively to Spanish history. Ferdinand VII, when restored to absolute power, in 1823, as well as in 1814, expunged, by one stroke of the pen, all that had been done in the revolutionary interregnum. The Revolutionists, on their part, acted in the same manner. In 1854, the Spanish people began with Espartero, with whom they ended in 1843. In 1814 the revolution was terminated by Ferdinand’s refusing to swear to the Cadiz Constitution. In 1820, it began with forcing upon him the oath to that same Constitution. He reassembled the same Cortes he had dissolved two years before, and made the very men Ministers he had banished or imprisoned in 1814. All parties in Spain, with equal obstinacy, tear out all those leaves from the book of their national history which they have not written themselves. Hence these sudden changes, these monstrous exactions, this endless, uninterrupted series of contests. Hence, also, that indelible perseverance which may be defeated, but can never be disheartened or discouraged.

The first Constitutional Ministry, as the chief of which Don Augustin Arguelles may he considered, was, as we have seen, formed of the martyrs of 1814. Martyrs are, on the whole, very dangerous political characters, deflowered, as it were, by the consciousness of their past failures; inflated by exaggerated notions of their past merits; inclined to attribute to themselves the greater capacities because of their damped courage; prone to declare the era of revolution closed with their arrival in the government; from the very fact of their restoration likely to assume the character of revolutionary legitimists or of legitimate revolutionaries; overjealous of the new men whom they are astonished to find their rivals; constantly vacillating between the fear of counter-revolution and the apprehension of anarchy; by the very force of circumstances induced to compromise with the former, in order not to be swept away by the latter, or to see overthrown what they used to call the true boundaries of progress. Such was the Ministry of Arguelles. During the four months which elapsed from its formation till the meeting of the Cortes, all public authority was, in fact, suspended. juntas in the provinces and in the capital, public clubs backed by secret societies, for the first time a popular and unbridled press, stormy petitions, patriotic songs, the erection of constitutional monuments, demonstrations of effervescence natural with a nation on the recovery of its liberty, but yet no acts of vengeance, no crimes committed, and a magnanimity displayed which was not to be expected from southern natures wont to abandon themselves to the impetuosity of their passions.

The Cortes at last opened their first session on July 9, 1820. They made Don José Espiga, Archbishop of Seville, their president. Ferdinand VII swore before them, as he had done before the Ayuntamientos, on the Gospel, to observe the Cadiz Constitution.

“So soon”, he said, “as the excess of undeserved suffering brought the long-suppressed wishes of the people to a distinct expression, I hastened to pursue the course they indicated, and professed the oath of fidelity to the Constitution of the Cortes of 1812. From this moment the king and the people entered on their legitimate rights. My resolution was free and voluntary.”

Ferdinand VII, a despotic coward, a tiger with the heart of a hare, a man as greedy of authority as unfit to exercise it, a prince pretending to absolute power in order to be enabled to renounce it into the hands of his footmen, proud, however, of one thing, namely, his perfect mastery in hypocrisy. He enjoyed a sort of satisfaction in exaggerating his own self-humiliation before a victorious enemy, resolved, as he was, to avenge, at the opportune moment, his objection by still more astounding perfidy. When a prisoner of Napoleon, he humbly thanked him for the refuge he had afforded him, and begged for the hand of a princess of the Bonaparte family. When Bonaparte negotiated with him for his restoration to the Spanish throne, he protested, in an adulatory letter, that he should be the meanest of mortals, and become a byword in Europe, if he ever proved ungrateful to his imperial benefactor, simultaneously writing a secret letter to the Regency at Madrid, informing them that, once set at liberty, his first act would be to betray the French Emperor. When, on July 9, 1820, he swore anew to the Constitution, declaring that his “resolution was free and voluntary,” the Count of Espagne and Mr. Pons were already negotiating in his name, at Paris, with the Pavillon Marsan — viz., the Count of Artois (afterward Charles X) and his coterie — on the means of subverting that same Constitution.

There were some moments in his political life, as for instance the decree of September 30, 1823, when he made false promises in the most solemn manner, for no other possible purpose than the mere pleasure of breaking them. The serious work of counter-revolution, he committed entirely to the partisans of the ancient régime, reserving to himself to encourage their efforts in every possible way, but with the mental reservation of disowning them if unfortunate, and quietly delivering them to the resentment of their enemies if beaten. No mortal ever bore others’ sufferings with more stoical apathy. For his own official part he limited himself to showing his disgust at the Constitution by playing the fool with it. One night, for instance, he writes to the head of the Cabinet, a letter to the effect that he had appointed Gen. Contador as War Minister. The Ministers, at a loss to find a Contador in the army list, are astonished at discovering at length that Contador was the ex-chief of a squadron, 84 years old, long since disabled for any kind of service. The Ministers so insolently mocked, tendered their resignation. Ferdinand, having succeeded in composing the difference, proposes to replace Contador by Gen. Martinez Rodriguez, as unknown as his predecessor. New troublesome researches having taken place, it appears that Martinez had been dangerously hurt in the head at Badajoz, by the explosion of a powder barrel, and had never recovered his senses since that accident. A sort of virtuoso in the art of passive audacity and active cowardice, Ferdinand VII never shrunk from provoking a catastrophe, resolved, as he was, to be beforehand with the danger.

The majority of the Cortes was composed of deputies to the Cadiz Cortes, the authors of the Constitution and their adherents, while the minority consisted of men who had conspired to re-establish the Constitution. The majority considering the proclamation of the Constitution as the final term of the revolution, while the minority considered it as its beginning; the former having laid hold of the Government, while the latter were still striving to seize it; a schism between the Liberals of 1812 and the Liberals of 1820, between the Moderados and the Exaltados, became inevitable. If the influence of the Liberals of 1812 was preponderant in the Cortes, the Liberals of 1820 were the stronger in the clubs the press, and the streets. If the former disposed of the Administration, the latter relied upon the army of the Isla, which, strengthened by some regiments that had not participated in the military revolt, was still concentrated in Andalusia, and placed under the supreme command of Riego, Quiroga having been sent as a deputy to the Cortes. In order to break the stronghold of the Exaltados, the Marquis de Las Amarillas, Minister-of-War, disbanded the army of the Isla, Riego having before been removed from his troops on the pretext of being installed as Captain-General of Galicia. Hardly was the army of the Isla disbanded — the only military corps in Spain that deserved the name of an army — when the first Bands of the Faith were seen to appear in Castile and in the North of Spain.

Riego, secretly summoned by his partisans, on the 31st August suddenly appeared at Madrid, where he became the idol of the people, who received him with turbulent ovations and with an overflow of enthusiasm, which the Ministry viewed as a general calamity. They resolved upon exiling him to Oviedo — several other Isla officers being also banished to different places. Although Riego did not resist this arbitrary act of proscription, the Ministers, apprehending an insurrection as likely to break out upon his nocturnal departure from Madrid, called the garrison to arms, occupied the principal places, filled the streets of Madrid with artillery, while on the following day, Arguelles proposed in the Cortes that measures should be taken against popular assemblies, which was warmly supported by Toreno and Martinez de la Rosa. From this day, (Sept. 7, 1820), is to be dated the open rupture between the two Liberal fractions and the retrogression of the revolutionary movement. The same fanaticism of order, the same complaints of incessant agitation, and the same angry impatience at every symptom of popular effervescence, which Europe witnessed during the first weeks after the Revolution of 1848, now possessed at once the Liberal aristocracy and the higher ranks of the middle classes in the Peninsula.

The first session of the Cortes being closed on November 9, 1820, Ferdinand VII, who had retired to the Escorial, with Victor Sáez, his confessor, thought the moment opportune for putting out his feelers. In spite of the Constitution, he nominated, by a royal decree, without the counter-signature of a responsible minister, Gen. Carvajal as Captain-General of New-Castile and Commandant of Madrid, in the place of Gen. Vigodet, who, however, refused to resign his place into the hands of Carvajal. The Ministry, believing themselves lost, now appealed to the very party they had commenced by persecuting. They applied to the directors of the Clubs, and received, in the most gracious manner, the violent address of the Madrid Ayuntamiento, which insisted upon the King’s return to Madrid. A similar address was drawn up by the permanent Commission, who represented the Cortes during their absence. The garrison and the militia were put under arms; the sittings of the Clubs became permanent; the populace burst forth into insulting menaces against the King; insurrection was openly preached by the daily papers, and a mass expedition to the Escorial, to fetch the King, seemed imminent. Bending before the storm, Ferdinand revoked his offensive decree, dismissed his anti-liberal confessor, and returned, with his whole family, to Madrid, where he arrived on Nov. 21, 1820. His entry resembled that of Louis XVI, and his family, on their forced return from Versailles to Paris on October 6, 1789.

The Ministry had not obtained the support of the Liberals of 1820 without giving them due reparation, by removing the Marqués de las Amarillas, who afterward openly professed himself a zealous partisan of absolute monarchy, from the War Ministry, and by raising the Isia officers to separate commands. Riego was appointed Captain-General of Aragon, Mina, Captain-General of Galicia, and Velasco, Captain-General of Estremadura. The Ministry of the Martyrs, irresolutely floating between fear of reaction and alarm at anarchy, contrived to become equally discredited with all parties. As to the royal family, its position-to quote the words of a thorough Legitimist — “continued precarious, owing to the indiscreet zeal of the Royalists, which it became impossible to control.”

At the opening of the second session, (March 1, 1821), the King acted his part quite in the tone and with the gestures of a stump-orator. Not content with simply reciting the speech drawn up by his Cabinet, he puzzled the ministers, by altering their text in a revolutionary sense, and laying higher colors upon the most decisive passages, such as that relating to the invasion of Naples by Austria. For a moment they fancied they had made a convert of him, but were soon disabused. Ferdinand terminated his speech’ with a fulminant accusation of his own ministers, who had suffered him to be exposed to menace and insults, which would not have taken place, if the Government had displayed that energy and vigor required by the Constitution and desired by the Cortes.

The King’s constitutional speech was only the forerunner of the dismissal of the Ministry, and the nomination of a Cabinet which, to the great astonishment of the nation, contained not a single individual attached to the new institutions, or who had not figured as an agent of despotism in the former Government.

The chief of the new Cabinet, M. Felix, formerly a sublieutenant in a militia regiment of Lima, and Deputy to the Cortes of 1812 for Peru, was, even at the epoch of the Cadiz Cortes, known as a venal and subtle intriguer. Bardaji, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, was a former diplomatist connected with the heads of the absolutist Cabinets, and Pelegrin, formerly a member of the Council of Castile, boasted that he was entirely devoted to the Holy Alliance. The avowed aim of this Ministry, which could not even pretend to any influence in the Cortes, was “to restore order and suppress anarchy.” Accordingly, the Exaltados were again removed from their commands, and full sway was given to the servile party; the most important places were intrusted to men known for their hatred of the prevailing system, a vail being cast upon all the royalist conspiracies that had burst forth in the Peninsula, and their authors, nearly all imprisoned by the people, being set at liberty by the Government. Gen. Morillo, Count of Carthagena, had just arrived from Terra Firma, where he had rendered himself notorious for his ferocity, dictatorial manners, want of probity, and a six years fratricidal war, which he carried on with fanatical enthusiasm. On his return, he staid a few days at Paris, where he connected himself with the intrigues of the Pavilion Marsan, the ultra journals at Paris signalizing. him as the man who was to restore the King to his ancient rights, and destroy the influence of the Cortes. When he arrived at Madrid, the Ministry lavished on him the strongest expressions of deference and respect, and appointed him Commander of the City and Province of Madrid. It was apparently this nomination which the servile party waited for to execute a coup d'état. The Brigadier Don José Martinez San Martin, a man of inflexible energy and strong Legitimist opinions, was joined to Morillo in the quality of Jefe Politico of the capital. While Madrid seemed overawed by the terror of Morillo’s name, Catalonia and Galicia became the scenes of passionate contests. Cadiz, Seville and Badajoz broke out in open revolt, refused to admit the Government officers, and disclaimed acknowledging any royal orders unless the Ministry were dismissed. In a message dated Nov. 25, 1821, the King summoned the Cortes to check these disorders. The Cortes, in their answer, drawn up by Don José Maria Calatrava, blamed the conduct of Cadiz and Seville, but insisted upon the dismissal of the Ministry, who had lost the confidence of the country, and “the moral force to carry on Government.” Notwithstanding this vote of distrust, Ferdinand did not think fit to appoint another Ministry till forty-eight hours before the opening of the new Cortes on March 1, 1822.

The elections to the new Cortes having taken place at the moment when the popular passions were exaggerated by the counter revolutionary course of the Government, by the news of Austria’s armed interference to suppress the Spanish Constitution proclaimed at Naples, and by the plundering expeditions of the Bands of the Faith at different points of the Peninsula, the Liberals of 1820, then called Exaltados, had, of course, a large majority. “The large majority of the new Legislature,” says a Moderado “being possessed of nothing, had nothing to lose. They belonged almost exclusively to the plebeian ranks of the middle-class and the army. The difference between them and their predecessors may be understood from the single fact that, while the latter had appointed the Archbishop of Seville’ as their President, they, on their part, called to the presidential chair the hero of Las Cabezas — Don Rafael del Riego.

The new Ministry, consisting of Ex-Deputies to the Cortes of 1820, was formed by Martinez de la Rosa, who accepted the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Martinez de la Rosa — who has since acted an important part under the reign of the innocent Isabella; formerly a Deputy to the short-lived Madrid Cortes of 1814; persecuted during the period of reaction; a Moderado par excellence., one of the most elegant Spanish poets and prosewriters — has proved at all epochs a true partisan of the doctrinaire school of the Guizots, the moderation of which gentlemen consists in their fixed notion that concessions to the mass of mankind can never be of too moderate a character. They exult in the erection of a liberal Aristocracy and the supreme rule of the Bourgeoisie, blended with the greatest possible amount of the abuses and traditions of the ancient régime. Martinez de la Rosa — overwhelmed with politeness, courted and flattered by the successive French Embassadors at Madrid-the Prince Laval de Montmorency and the Count Lagarde — aimed to modify the Constitution of 1812, by establishing a House of Peers — giving the King an absolute veto, introducing a property qualification for the Lower House, and laying restrictions upon the press. From 1834 to 1836 this incorrigible doctrinaire had the pleasure of witnessing the introduction and the downfall of the abortive Constitution he had hatched in 1822, The French diplomatists made him understand that the Court of the Tuileries would approve of institutions similar to those which then existed in France, while he flattered himself that the King would not be averse to a charter which had enabled Louis XVIII to do what he liked.> The King, on his part, cajoled the self-conceited Moderado, whom he intended, as was afterward proved, to send directly from the palace to the scaffold.

According to the plan concocted between the Camarilla and the Ministry, all conspiracies were to be winked at, and confusion was to be suffered to reign, so as, afterward, by the assistance of France, to introduce order, and give the nation a moderate Charter, capable of perpetuating power and influence in its original promoters, and winning over the privileged classes to the new system. Consequently, in opposition to the secret societies of the Liberals, a secret society was founded on moderate principles — the Society of the Anillo, the members of which were to act conjointly with the Ministry. Money was plentifully scattered among the Royal Life Guards, but these distributions being denounced to the Ministry by members of the municipal police, they ridiculed them, treating the information as a symptom of radicalism and republicanism. The regiment of the Royal Cuirassiers, cantoned in Andalusia, was completely seduced; alarming reports were spread in the different provinces whither were sent, as Political Chiefs, members of the Society of the Anillo. At the same time the tribunals received secret instructions to treat with great indulgence all conspiracies that might fall under their judicial powers. The object of these proceedings was to excite an explosion at Madrid, which was to coincide with another at Valencia. Gen. Elio, the traitor of 1814, then a prisoner in that town, was to put himself at the head of the counter-revolution in the eastern part of Spain, the garrison of Valencia being composed of only one regiment, greatly attached to Elio, and hostile, therefore, to the Constitutional system. The Deputy Bertrán de Lys, in the Assembly of the Cortes, entreated the Ministers to withdraw this body of soldiers from Valencia, and when they remained inflexible, brought in a motion of impeachment. The day appointed for the explosion was the last day of May (1822), the feast of St. Ferdinand. The Court was then at Aranjuez. On a given signal the guards rushed into the streets and, backed by the Aranjuez mob, assembled in the front of the palace, shouting cries of “Long live our absolute monarch! Down with the Constitution.” This riot was, however, instantly suppressed by Gen. Zayas, and the simultaneous revolt of the regiment of Valencia proved, after a bloody combat between the militia and the soldiers, no more successful. The failures of Aranjuez and Valencia served only to exasperate the Liberals. On all sides parties prepared for self-defense. The agitation becoming universal, the Ministers alone remained passive spectators in the midst of the confusion that announced an approaching storm.