THE FREE TRADE TRADITION IN GALICIA SEEN TROUGH THE AGRARIAN PRESS
– Miriam González Francisco –
They were strange times, times of decadence and exasperation, and also of “Desastres” when the 20th century arrived at the northwest of the Iberian Peninsula. Galicia had suffered from the agrarian crisis at the turn of the century and a spirit of change and renovation was taking form trough the publication of controversial articles in agrarian magazines like “La Crónica del Trabajo” (1901) and, what could be considered its successor, “Prácticas Modernas” (1903). The changes that came with the new century were accompanied by an intellectual movement that could be defined as the Galician version of the Regeneracionista current.
The significance of the economic approach shaped by both publications will have its imprint in the articulation of the theory of Galician nationalism; nationalists, from Peña Novo to Risco, will assume that free trade is “not only a necessary measure for Galicia but, furthermore, a proof of the superiority of Galician agriculture over the rest of the State”.[i]
Two keen pens will become the scourge of the Restauración and protectionism. Valeriano Villanueva and Bartolomé Calderón were the main figures in both magazines and together with José Darío Fernández Crespo, among others, will form the generation known as “between two centuries”.[ii]
Even though this group of authors lacked an academic formation in economics, nevertheless they will develop a set of recipes to overcome the shameful backwardness of Galicia.
The fight against protectionism, centralism, despotism, and the dedication to the defense of free trade will become the banner that groups their literature. With a straightforward style and lack of artifices, they will strive to reach as many people as possible. They wanted their magazine to be “good, practical and economical in order to make it available for all kind of intellects and fortunes”.[iii]
Livestock and agriculture were the main concern of these authors since they considered those sectors as the base of all economic life. They supported small and medium-sized property owners and condemned that “in Spain the small rural property works, thrives and endures almost in its full extent the burden of the State while the economic interests of the nation are sacrificed for the benefit of the big property, which is at the same level as the farming activity in Morocco”.[iv] In their analysis, they showed the dichotomy between the central and southern regions of the Spanish state and the northern regions: big farms, totally unproductive in their opinion, against small proprietors, which they defended. To release the potential of small farms they proposed to free them from the burden of coactive rent extraction:
[…] let us not try to modify the rural economy, let us leave it alone and let us help the good old villager to improve the performance of his land by instructing him in the technological advances better suited to this country.[v]
James Scott offers a similar view in Two Cheers For Anarchism where he states that “a society dominated by smallholders and shopkeepers comes closer to equality and to popular ownership of the means of production than any economic system yet devised”.[vi]
The fiercest criticism of these authors was directed against State centralism. Bartolomé Calderón will arrive at regionalism trough a critique of tariffs and he will always maintain a distrustful stance regarding the State:[vii]
Everything good in Spain is the work of the private citizen; on the other hand, everything that is more or less directly dependent on the State, like public instruction in all its forms, the Army, the Navy and arsenals, the tax collection, and the justice system, displays the most detestable organization and is the focus of the greater abuses. The government did not do, does not do and will not do anything to the benefit of our wretched livestock sector; if, unfortunately, it decides to intervene it will be to make some new mistake, to introduce some new vice and to worsen them, if that is possible.[viii]
The logic against State centralism was founded on the fact that the political control of the State was in the hands of an oligarchy that benefitted from the artificially prices of cereals, and the existence of an unjust fiscal system that constituted a heavy burden for the Galician economy.
Liberalism and free trade were the big economic bet of this movement. They stated that it was paramount the abolition of tariffs and the specialization of the different territories of the State. In the case of Galicia, this would lead to the abandonment of cereal crops, which was a forced production, since its cost in the domestic market was very high due to the tariff that protected Castilian producers (prices in the international market were surprisingly low), and the specialization in livestock; that logic led them to understand that it was necessary to specialize in the production of those goods in which one is more competitive. This way, only the most capable holdings would survive:
Trade competition, the struggle for life, will give the agriculture in every region the special character that is better suited to their nature and relationships: we will transform our economy in the direction of livestock, whose product we will exchange for cereals, wine, etc. In Castilian markets, in the English market and others […] Our prosperity will come when we have a political regime similar to those of the northern people (Denmark, England, Holland, etc.) that have a construction similar to ours, or it will never come.[ix]
The separation and limitation of the State are constant themes in their writings. They thought that the role played by the state organization was inefficient and they prefered to delegate its functions to the actions of civil society.[x]
The political history of Spain has shown, with no exception, that direct intervention of the government has always been calamitous to all industries.[xi]
Despite their broadmindedness and influence in the agrarian movement and the Galician nationalism of the 30’s, the recommendations of these authors seem to have fallen into oblivion in the current fight for the hegemonic discourse. They do not have any political or media resonance. However, when Vicente Risco proclaimed in Theory of Galician Nationalism that “Galicia is pro-free trade” he was following the path laid down by “Prácticas Modernas”:
Trade freed from all restriction is the only way to achieve the best use of the natural riches of a country, human welfare, and the elimination of international conflicts. Free trade is the international economic formula indispensable for the humanitarian progress of the world.[xii]
[i] FERNÁNDEZ PRIETO, Lourenzo; CABO VILLAVERDE, Miguel: “Agrarismo y regeneracionismo en la Galicia de comienzos del siglo XX. El discurso del regionalismo agrícola” en: Agricultura y Sociedad, nº86, Mayo-Agosto, 1998, p.155.
[ii] DURÁN, José A.: Agrarismo y movilización en el país gallego (1875-1912), Siglo XXI, Madrid, 1977, p.119.
[iii] CALDERÓN, B.: “Nuestro objeto”, P.M. nº1, enero de 1903, B. Calderón.
[iv] “La protección de la rutina”,P.M., nº63 B. Calderón.
[v] VILLANANUEVA, V.: “El cultivo del trigo en esta región” P.M. nº18.
[vi] SCOTT, James: Elogio del Anarquismo, Planeta, Barcelona, 2013, p. 139
[vii] CABO VILLAVERDE, Miguel: “Pensamento económico e agrarismo na primeira metade do século XX” en: Documentos de Traballo e Historia, nº3, 1997.
[viii] “La mejora de la ganadería y las corridas de toros” (sin firma, pero con toda seguridade autoría de B. Calderón) C.T. nº18.
[ix] CALDERÓN, B: “Nuestro progreso agrícola depende de nuestra independencia económica” P.M: nº116.
[x] FERNÁNDEZ PRIETO, Lourenzo; CABO VILLAVERDE, Miguel: op.cit. p. 147.
[xi] CALDERÓN, B: “La cuestión pecuaria en el Norte de España”, P.M. nº29.
[xii] CALDERÓN, B: “El arancel y el fomento agrícola” P.M. nº57
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