During 40 years of the 20th century, Spain did not vote, it was not possible to say many things or do many things. The writers had to say, as Cernuda did, not that they were fed up with Franco, but that being tired has feathers, “feathers that certainly never fly, but they babble like a parrot.” What happened to scientists in all those years, could science be done under Franco? Researcher Lino Camprubí has dedicated his book to this thesis Franco’s engineers (Review).
Camprubí recalls in the book a 1969 discussion between his grandfather, Gustavo Bueno, an atheist philosopher who died last summer, and the Catholic paleontologist Miguel Crusafont. It is an example that those four decades were not a wasteland of science with patriotic pretenses, but that there was a certain tension and, above all, that scientists and engineers had a fundamental role in the economic, political and ideological development of Francoism.
One of the intentions of his book is to combat that black legend that research during the Franco regime was a “time of silence” for everyone, as the novel by Luis Martín-Santos suggests.
The reasons are various, but for example, one of the scientists I talk about in the book is called Jose Antonio Valverde and he was a biologist, he studied in Seville almost all his life and did his work in Doñana. Valverde’s memoirs, from 2003, are very interesting and somewhere he refers to the historiography of that period, and of course, he reflects that saying that there was no scientific research in the Franco regime placed those who were doing science in that period in a kind of limbo.
And do you think you have found the answer?
In conversations I found that there was an insistence on saying that there could not be science during the Franco regime and at the same time there was the need to recognize that there was. The question I asked myself was twofold: Why has it been said that there are none? What kind of research was there? And I think the answer is common: it has been said that there is none because the research that existed today is not considered scientific, because when doing it you had to sing a song to the country and another to the Virgin Mary. It is not what we understand today by science, but the interesting thing is to understand how there could be scientific research in the hands of people of the time, who had a more or less present national-Catholic ideology.
We think of the construction of the Hoover Dam as part of the history of engineering, but the swamps of Extremadura or the hydroelectric plants of Franco in Galicia have more folkloric connotations than technological, engineering or ecological. Why is this happening?
It has a bit to do with the Transition and the way that we have had the later generations to understand the previous model. More and more people tend to say that before democracy there was nothing and that it was with the Constitution when things started to pull. But all serious historians agree that this is not the case.
For example, I used to talk to an ecologist from Seville who in the seventies was an activist against nuclear energy, and yet speaking to him in 2010 he told me that nuclear research in Spain was shit on a stick. Let’s see, if you were in the seventies against nuclear power, how can you tell me now that there was no nuclear research under Franco? In 74, Spain was the United States’ largest customer for nuclear power and enriched uranium.
I think I remember that the Zorita plant, inaugurated in 1968, was built largely by the US, with a Westinghouse reactor ready to put the fuel in and hit the button.
Yes and no. It is true that the plant was given to us turnkey, but each contract with them was equivalent to many other subcontracts with Spanish technology companies, an estimated 2000 companies per plant. That is, the reactor, yes, but then there were a lot of things related to making that really work and in the end, increasing autonomy and consolidating capitalism in Spain, which in the end was what the United States wanted.
It is curious that the criticism of his acquaintance was towards nuclear energy and not towards the dictatorship itself.
What I think has happened in part is that the Spanish left after the Transition became capitalist. It was old enough, but there were groups that said “Franco is bad precisely because he industrialized”, from a Marxist point of view what Francoism meant is a forced accumulation of capital, the criticism then was “look, Franco is preparing the country for the capitalists ”.
A part of his book is dedicated to the links between José María Escrivá de Balaguer and the birth of the CSIC, those links between research and religion.
I do not deny that there was a great repression of the Franco regime on scientists, in particular on previous institutions such as the Junta de Ampliación de Estudios, but apart from that you have to see what was done, otherwise you cannot understand how it could survive without science a modern state for 40 years. One of the things that was done was the CSIC, whose objective was not only research, but research for the economic independence of Spain.
That was led by people like José María Albareda, who was the secretary general, who was closely linked to Opus Dei. Some historian has said that Opus Dei influenced Spanish science under Franco, and yes, but at the same time it can be said that the CSIC influenced Opus Dei. Why? Because in 1939 Opus Dei was nothing, they were the seven friends in that photograph and little else. In addition, those in the photo greatly influenced Escrivá de Balaguer and his goal, which was like that of Ramiro de Maeztu and others: to make Catholicism compatible with capitalism. The national-Catholic and economic link is what makes scientific-technical research receive special attention in some strategic sectors.
Is the situation of science during those years comparable with that of culture, that is, great figures exiled and shining while here you had to bow your head and stand?
Yes, but it is also a reflection of how we look at things, even today. Between ’47 and ’49, Heisenberg and other German nuclear scientists were in Spain, and there were important people like Eduardo Torroja here. Of course, they did not win Nobel prizes like Severo Ochoa, who although he worked abroad had many ties with Spain. What I say in the book is that the role of science in Spain cannot be measured only with scientific scales, number of Nobel prizes or publications, but it is interesting to see it in relation to the real problems of that time, both political and border , energy sovereignty, of Gibraltar or the Sahara.
Your grandfather, Gustavo Bueno, was one of those foci of reasoning and dialogue in difficult years for scientism, was he an inspiration for this book?It has been a source of inspiration in many ways, one of them was not to understand the State only as politics in the sense of the relationship between the governors and the governed, but as the management of the territory and the management of the borders. Another was to look at science not just as grand theories or discoveries, but as material practices in the laboratory. And then on more concrete things. The Crusafont thing was one of the last conversations I had with him last summer, he told me the whole story with hair and bolts. Then I received from a friend in Barcelona the letter from the Crusafont archive, and I was able to verify that everything was just as he had told me. Gustavo Bueno reproached Crusafont for using providence, because he said that he did not use that term as a scientist but as a Catholic. The truth is that, reading it today, they expressed themselves quite freely, more than one might suppose in those years. He always said that the limit of freedom of expression was not to mention Franco: “As long as you don’t say that Franco is useless, you can say everything else.”