José María Gil-Robles y Quiñones
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- For his son, a former president of the European Parliament, see José María Gil-Robles.
Gil-Robles received his master's degree in 1919 and in 1922 he gained by examination the chair of political law in the University of La Laguna (Tenerife). During the dictatorship of Miguel Primo de Rivera he was secretary of the Catholic-Agrarian National Confederation and member of the Writing Council of El Debate. After the declaration of the Second Spanish Republic, he participated in and led the Acción Nacional (National Action) party, later renamed Acción Popular (Popular Action).
In the elections of 1931 he was chosen as a deputy in the Cortes for Salamanca. During the period of the Republic, he maintained the posture of "accidentalism": whether Spain was a monarchy or republic was less important than the law's compatibility with religious principles.
Gil-Robles formed the Spanish Confederation of the Autonomous Right (CEDA) which won the elections of November 1933. To avoid conflicts with leftist parties, President Niceto Alcalá-Zamora invested Alejandro Lerroux, leader of the Radicals, as prime minister instead of Gil Robles, the head of the largest party in the Cortes. The appointment of three CEDA ministers to the cabinet in 1934 triggered the leftist miners' strike that rose against the government of the Republic. Gil-Robles served as Minister of War under Lerroux from May to December 1935. In the decisive elections of February 1936, the CEDA was the largest part of the National Front coalition, which also included Alfonsine monarchists and Carlists. He campaigned for a majority under the slogan Todo el poder para el Jefe ("All the power to the Chief [i.e., Gil Robles]"), and while he himself was reelected to the Cortes, the National Front narrowly lost the elections.
Gil-Robles is a unique and controversial figure in the history of Spanish politics. The nature of his political beliefs during the Second Republic either greatly fluctuated or were tailored to his audience, as he is recorded as making many statements that appear contradictory. This is certainly reflected in the nature of his party, the CEDA, which somehow managed to attract support from both moderate Catholic republicans and extreme right-wing monarchists.
The controversy surrounding him has been best articulated by historians Paul Preston and Richard Robinson:
- Preston believes that Gil-Robles was essentially a legalist fascist, whose policy of accidentalism would give way to legislating for a fascist dictatorship when he was confident that the populace was controllable. His evidence references Gil Robles' speeches, which were often filled with "anti-democratic and anti-Semitic innuendo", the oppressive, anti-reformist nature of his government partnership with Alejandro Lerroux's Radicals, and the frank admiration offered to foreign fascist regimes by both his propaganda and by his press organ, El Debate.
- Robinson, however, rejects any claim that Gil-Robles was anything but a consummate politician struggling to keep the unstable right under control and within the law. The CEDA was not a mere front for fascist aspirations, but a party that was based on Catholic values, including a desire to pursue social Catholicism. Gil Robles himself certainly expressed pro-republican views; in an interview with the American journalist Mallory Browne he said, "I am the only friend of the Republic", and is recorded as declaring that "a new dictatorship would produce, after a period of tranquillity, social revolution."
Following the victory of the Popular Front in the elections of February 1936 and the defeat of the CEDA, support for Gil-Robles and his party evaporated almost overnight. Most striking was the haemorrhaging of CEDA members to the explicitly fascist Falange. Bitterly disillusioned with the failure of their jefe, CEDA's youth group Juventudes de Acción Popular went over en masse to the Falange. In the following months and in the volatile situation that arose, Gil-Robles was well aware that a coup was being prepared. Despite his later insistence that he had no part in the destruction of the Republic, the CEDA leader was kept informed of each stage of the plot; members of his party played important liaison roles, facilitating contact between military and civilian plotters. Gil-Robles himself authorized the transfer of 500,000 pesetas of CEDA electoral funds to General Emilio Mola's military insurgents.
Whatever his politics were, with the beginning of the Spanish Civil War, Gil-Robles was unwilling to struggle with Francisco Franco for power and in April 1937 announced the dissolution of CEDA. After the Civil War he went into exile. Abroad he negotiated with Spanish monarchists to try to arrive at a common strategy for taking power in Spain. In 1968 he was named a professor of the University of Oviedo and published his book No fue posible la paz ('Peace Was Not Possible'). He was a member of the International Tribunal at the Hague. After the death of Franco and the end of his regime, Gil-Robles became one of the leaders of the "Spanish Christian Democracy" party, which however got no support in the first post-Franco elections in 1977.
- Mary Vincent, Catholicism in the Second Spanish Republic, p.243, Paul Preston, Coming of the Spanish Civil War ch 7, (ch 8 2nd edn)