Miguel Primo de Rivera y Orbaneja

The Spanish general Miguel Primo de Rivera y Orbaneja (1870-1930) ruled Spain as a dictator from 1923 to 1930.

Miguel Primo de Rivera was born in Cadiz on Jan. 8, 1870, of a middle-class family that later became landowners in the Andalusian town of Jerez. He entered the General Military Academy in Toledo in 1884 and first saw service in Africa in 1893, where he won the Cross of San Fernando. Two years later he went to Cuba as an aide to Gen. Martinez de Campos. When his uncle, Gen. Fernando Primo de Rivera, was named captain general of the Philippines in 1897, Miguel went to Manila as an aide. A major in 1898, he was prevented by the collapse of Spanish military power from becoming a lieutenant general until 1919, the interim being filled with campaigns in Morocco, a stormy military governorship of Cadiz (1915), and service as an observer at the western front during World War I.

Public notice did not come Primo's way until 1922, when, as captain general of Barcelona, he attempted to reestablish law and order at just the moment that antiwar sentiment and social unrest were pointing toward revolution. Almost by chance Primo was selected as the chief figure in the military coup d'etat that on Sept. 12, 1923, overthrew parliamentary government (possibly with the aid of King Alfonso XIII) and imposed a military dictatorship. Overnight Primo became the most important political figure in Spain.

Primo has been described as a "glorified café politician" who, though he had made no preparation for rule, nevertheless aspired to political greatness. Order was restored by suspending constitutional guarantees, dissolving the Parliament, and imposing martial law. A new party, the Patriotic Union, became Primo's political vehicle and the only legal party in the country. Aside from the King's support of it, however, it had been put together so fast that it never developed great strength. Only because Primo was able to concentrate resources and to rally the army and defeat Abd el-Krim and the Moroccans did the new regime gain some respite from political dissension. The ending of the Moroccan War in December 1925 became Primo's one solid triumph.

Internal problems, surprisingly, continued to mount. Liberals rejected Primo's local government reforms and anticentralism, and radicals, despite the addition of a Socialist, Largo Cabellero, to his Cabinet, did not feel that the regime was moving fast enough in making social reforms. University students and intellectuals, fearing that Primo was another Benito Mussolini, led the opposition from 1925 on, and one of Spain's most distinguished intellectuals, Miguel de Unamuno, went into exile. Primo in fact was far from being a Fascist like Mussolini; if anything he had a paternalistic view of the state that unfortunately was out of step with the growing ideological sensitivities of the Spaniards.

By 1928, as the revolt of the cadets at the Academy of Segovia showed, even the army was dissatisfied with Primo, mainly because law and order were breaking down. The next 2 years witnessed one act of rebellion after the other, but King Alfonso XIII delayed replacing Primo because the monarchy had used the regime to hide its involvement in a series of disastrous political and military setbacks just prior to the dictatorship. Finally, however, Primo had no other recourse than to resign on Jan. 28, 1930, when he left for exile in Paris. He died in Paris on March 16, 1930.

Primo's son, José Antonio, frequently defended his father during the next few years of growing political bitterness, and many aspects of his father's paternalism could be found in José Antonio Primo de Rivera's much more overtly fascist philosophy. José Antonio founded the Falange party and became the martyr of the nationalist movement.


Further Reading on Miguel Primo de Rivera y Orbaneja

Dillwyn F. Ratcliff, Prelude to Franco: Political Aspects of the Dictatorship of General Miguel Primo de Rivera (1957), covers Primo de Rivera's regime. Good accounts of his career are in Gerald Brenan, The Spanish Labyrinth: An Account of the Social and Political Background of the Civil War (1943; 2d ed. 1950), and Raymond Carr, Spain, 1808-1939 (1966). There is also extensive material on Primo de Rivera in Charles Petrie, King Alfonso XIII and His Age (1963).