Falangism is a Catholic brand of fascism once popular in Spain and Lebanon. It emphasises conservative Catholic values, class collaboration, national syndicalism, anticommunism, and authoritarian nationalism. Falange is Spanish for Phalanx, an ancient Greek military formation of tightly packed spearmen, the type favoured by the Spartans and Alexander the Great.
In a Phalanx each shield overlapped and every row would raise their weapon at a slightly higher degree, creating a near impenetrable wall of spears. Phalanxes required discipline and trust: each man was only as strong as the man next to him. Falangists seek to emulate that disciplined effectiveness state-wide.
The Falangist economic system is national syndicalism; the revolutionary syndicalism of the labour movement with an authoritarian twist. The idea is that all national industries are organised into syndicates represented at the government level, to work for the national economic good rather than private profit. Tariffs are high, industries are regulated and the government intervenes to prevent recessions. National Syndicalism was envisioned as an alternative to both capitalism and communism, helping weather the Great Depression in Italy, Portugal and Spain.
Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera, an idealistic aristocrat and son of the former dictator founded the Falanges Espanola in 1933. Modelling his thought on Italian fascism he advocated syndicalism and land reform, but opposed both communism and liberal democracy. Violence and revolutionary reform would regenerate Spain and transform it into an imperial power once more.
When the new republican government executed de Rivera weeks before the Civil War, the Falanges aligned with the Nationalist rebels. Francisco Franco incorporated Falangism into his ‘National Movement’ as an ideological framework but curbed its revolutionary edge to reconcile it with his conservative support base. Falangism’s anti capitalism was abandoned and, particularly after Franco aligned with the US after WW2, its anti-communism emphasised. Instead of being run by the workers as originally intended, the Spanish syndicates were organised from the top down. Franco’s one party dictatorship lasted from 1937-1975.
Falangism was not an exclusively Spanish phenomenon, however. Pierre Gemayel (pictured), a young Lebanese Catholic attended the 1936 Olympics in Berlin and was awed by the Nazis’ disciplined spectacle. He subsequently modelled the Kataeb party, or Phalanges, on the fascist parties of Europe, complete with brownshirted paramilitary and Roman salutes.
In 1958, 18 years after independence, the Phalangists emerged as the leading party of Lebanese Christians. While in power, they developed the country’s infrastructure and tourism, introduced public education and bitterly opposed the contemporary Pan-Arabist zeitgeist.
In the Lebanese Civil War of 1975 to 1990, the Phalangists allied with Israel against Hezbollah and the Palestinian Liberation Organisation. In 1984 Phalangist militias under Gemayel’s son Bachir, massacred 2,000 Palestinian civilians in Beirut’s Sabra-Shatilia refugee camps.
Phalangist Militiamen in the Lebanese Civil War
Losing its primacy after the war, the Kataeb Party resurged in the 2005 Cedar Revolution. Though still to the right, the Phalangists have shed their fascist roots, focusing instead on Christian Democracy, Lebanese identity and opposition to Syria and Hezbollah.
Falangist movements sprouted across Latin America in the 30s and 40s too, though without lasting impact.
The Argentinian Tacuara Nationalist Movement, a gang of Falangist guirellas, perpetrated over 30 anti-Semitic hate crimes in the early 60s. In ’63, the Tacuaras robbed a bank of 14 million pesos (753,000 USD in 2017) but were dispersed in the resulting crackdown.
The far right Bolivian Socialist Falange, meanwhile was the country’s second largest party from 1954-74. Though weaker, it still stands today.
Primo di Rivera disliked the term fascism, though Franco embraced it whole heartedly until the fall of Nazi Germany. Contrary to the Argentine Tacuaras, antisemetism was notably absent in Spanish Falangist thought. The Lebanese Phalanges even included Jews in their ranks. Regardless, Falangism is the only fascist political system to outlive the Second World War.
- 2017 Warsaw March – The banner of the National Radical Camp Falanga, a prewar Polish fascist group reemerged at this march
- Waltz with Bashir – A harrowing Israeli film about the Sabra-Shatlia Massacres. I saw it years ago but remember it was good.
- Norman Berdichevsky: Franco, Fascism and the Falange – Not one and the Same – A good explanation of the semantics surrounding fascism and falangism. Helped me write this post.