JOAQUÍN COSTA’s ARTICLE ON LAND AND THE SOCIAL QUESTION
El pueblo gime en la misma servidumbre que antes, la libertad no ha penetrado en su hogar, su mísera suerte no ha cambiado en lo más mínimo, como no sea para empeorar (…), el régimen liberal ha hecho bancarrota. ¿Y sabéis por qué? Porque esa libertad no se cuidaron más que de escribirla en la “Gaceta”, creyendo que a eso se reducía todo; porque no se cuidaron de afianzarla dándole cuerpo y raíz en el cerebro y en el estómago; en el cerebro, mejorando y universalizando la instrucción, en el estómago, promoviendo una transformación honda de la agricultura, que la haga producir doble que al presente y disminuya el precio de las subsistencias, y, mediante la difusión de la propiedad territorial, elevando a los braceros a la condición de terratenientes. Se contentaron con la sombra, olvidando la verdadera sustancia de la libertad y su verdadera garantía, que se hallan en la escuela y en la despensa; y el fracaso era inevitable. No vieron que la libertad sin garbanzos no es libertad. No vieron que por encima de todas las Constituciones y de todos los derechos individuales y de todas las urnas electorales, el que tiene la llave del estómago tiene la llave de la conciencia, y, por tanto, que el que tiene el estómago dependiente de ajenas despensas no puede ir a donde quiere; no puede hacer lo que quiere, no puede pensar como quiere; no puede el día de las elecciones votar a quien quiere; no reflexionaron que el que no sabe es como el que no ve, y el que no ve tiene que ir conducido por un lazarillo a donde el lazarillo quiere llevarle, que raras veces es a donde el ciego le conviene, que casi siempre es donde le conviene al lazarillo (…) Esto lo vieron claramente los hombres de Estado de 1873, preocupándose tanto como de la reforma política, de la reforma social cuando todavía podía ser sazón de que fructificase pacífica y evolutivamente, sin los grandes trastornos y conmoción que ahora nos amenazan y que empiezan a alarmar a todos los partidos (…)
COSTA, J.: La tierra y la cuestión social. Madrid, 1902
· Primary and written historical source.
· It’s an extract of a book called La tierra y la cuestión social, published in 1912.
· Public document.
· Context: the text was written in Madrid in 1902.
Very few years before Costa wrote this article in 1899, the government started listening to regenerationist claims. The conservative government of Silvela included some regenerationist people and launched some reforms.
However, Minister Fernández Villaverde promoted a tax reform that increased the taxes on basic products and created new taxes to reduce the debt. These new taxes caused the protests of the producers in Catalonia, who organized the so called tancament de caixes (unregistering the industrial and commercial companies to avoid paying the new taxes) in 1899, and the chambers of commerce and the National League of Producers, which formed the National Union (Unión Nacional). Its main leaders, Basilio Paraíso, Santiago Alba and the author of this text, Costa, organized different protests, like the taxpayers’ strike in 1900, only successful in Catalonia, where the strike lasted for six months.
During the first years of Alphonse XIII’s reign there were also some regenerationist projects promoted by Maura (conservative), who tried to make a “revolution from above” to avoid “revolution from below, and Canalejas (liberal), who increased the intervention of the State in social and economic relationships.
· Intended audience: everyone interested in economic and social topics.
· Author: Joaquín Costa was the most outstanding representative of regenerationism, political movement that claimed for the modernization of the country and that criticized the situation of the country due to the loss of the colonies. Costa wrote a report called Oligarquía y Caciquismo, where he criticized the political system of the Restoration, proposed the need for the economic modernization of the country and the education of the people (his motto was “School, larder and double-lock to the tomb of El Cid”). He also proposed the necessity of an “iron surgeon” to solve the problems of the country in an authoritarian way. He also participated in the National League of Producers (Liga Nacional de Productores), a movement of the productive classes (merchants and small businessmen) against the tax reform of the last years of the century.
The main idea is the need for regeneration and reform, which became more evident and urgent after the 1898 Disaster. What Costa is doing is analyzing the situation of the country, criticizing what the liberal governments haven’t done and proposing the solutions he thinks the country needs.
When the author talks about “la misma servidumbre que antes”, he refers to Ancien Régime, which was abandoned definitely in Spain during the Regencies’ period. In the Ancien Régime, peasants were obliged to work for an only lord during all their lives and they had to pay him to cultivate his land, and land belonged to the privileged (nobles and clergy) and couldn’t be sold because it was entailed. “La Gaceta” was the previous name of the Boletín Oficial del Estado, the official bulletin of the Spanish State, dedicated to the publication of certain laws, orders and acts of compulsory insertion. With “braceros”, the author refers to labourers (peasants without land), and “los hombres de Estado de 1873” were mainly the members of the different governments of the First Republic (1873-1874), who were reformist and wanted to make social reforms, although the permanent instability and the accumulation of difficulties (Third Carlist War, war in Cuba, uprisings, conspiracies and cantonal revolution) made impossible to put any program into practice.
Feudalism was abolished with the liberal revolution: the seigneurial system disappeared, the entailed lands were disentailed and the mortmain properties were eliminated with Mendizábal Ecclesiastical Confiscations (1836-1837) and Madoz Civil Confiscations (1855). Around half of the cultivable lands in Spain were involved in the confiscations’ process. But the way they were done didn’t give the peasants access to land. Most of the peasants couldn’t buy land and became labourers. Social differences increased, especially in the South. In this way, the new landowners could have big amounts of available workforce to cultivate their lands and they didn’t invest in machines to modernize the agrarian tasks. Although the cultivated land experienced an important growth, productivity continued to be low. As most of the peasants continued to be poor, they didn’t have enough resources to buy industrial products and this damaged the industrial development of the country.
As for education, at the end of the century alphabetization continued to be very deficient: only 37%, while in France 70% of the population had gone to school. Illiteracy was also very high: 70% of the population was illiterate (50% in men and 80% in women) and only 1% of the population had university studies. The different education laws of the century didn’t improve the situation much. With the Moyano Law, the only free education was from 6 to 9 years old and only for those who could prove that they couldn’t pay it. The rest of the studies had to be financed by the families who could afford them (paid education).
Many political parties and workers’ organizations appeared some years before 1902 demanding social reforms but they had very little participation in politics because the elections were manipulated by the dynastic parties (Liberal Party and Conservative Party). That’s why he criticized the political system of the Restoration.
He criticized that the liberal governments’ decisions hadn’t changed the situation of most of the people, because the social question hadn’t been a priority for them. He remembers the period of the 1st Republic, whose rulers knew that the only way to change things was introducing economic and social reforms.
The text shows some of the problems Spain’ had at the beginning of the 20th century and the claim for regeneration.
There were some attempts for regenerating the system from above. Antonio Maura tried to make a “revolution from above” to avoid “revolution from below” and attempted to broaden the social support to the Restoration system, attracting the “neutral masses”, people without any political ideology, but keen to keep social order and authority. He launched a reform policy that included: creation of the Institute of Social Reforms (1903), physical and moral protection for children, workplace inspections, promotion of cooperatives and Six-Day Working Week (Ley de Descanso Dominical). In 1907, when he came back to power, he issued a more ambitious program: Municipal Justice Act, Law of Electoral Reform (to reduce the government intervention in the electoral process), creation of the National Institute of Insurance (precedent of the Social Security), Strike Law, Local Administration Bill (in order to give more power to town city councils) and Repression and Terrorism Bill. Republicans and liberals launched a campaign against his anti-terrorist proposals and his regeneration project was abandoned after the Tragic Week events (1909).
Another regenerationist politician was José Canalejas. His government lasted from 1910 to 1912 and his main reforms had a social content: reduction of the working day to nine hours in the mines, rest days for women working in shops, regulation of women’s night work or the suppression of the consumption tax. But he didn’t hesitate to confront the workers and he was assassinated by an anarchist.
As the reforms were limited, protests increased during Alphonse XIII’s reign, especially in 1917 due to the loss of the workers’ purchasing power because of WWI.
Joaquín Costa proposed the necessity of an “iron surgeon” to solve the problems of the country in an authoritarian way. Many people identified Primo de Rivera’s dictatorship with it, although the main problems identified by Costa continued to be unsolved and the identification of the monarchy with the dictatorship finally led to the Republic.
Manipulation of the elections, social differences, illiteracy and poverty continued. However, during the Second Republic (1931-1936) there was an attempt to modify the structure of the land’s property with the Agrarian Reform (1932), and many schools were built. The number of unionized workers increased progressively and especially during the Republic and the caciques lost power.
Salvador Fuentes Lucas-Torres