Franco's experiment with 50 women in Malaga: in search of the "red gene"

May 1939. The Francoist side had just declared its victory in the Civil War, which would give way to more than thirty years of dictatorship. The new regime needed to sew the wound from which Spain was bleeding, fractured in two, and used pseudoscience as a thread. The doctor Antonio Vallejo-Nájera, head of the military psychiatric services, had proposed a crazy thesis based on the belief that there was a "red gene" that led to moral, sexual and ideological perversion. Months before, Franco had created a psychological research cabinet to seek a biological explanation for communism, in tune with Nazi theories about the superiority of the Aryan race. The Francoist ideal rested on militarism and National Catholicism, a spirit threatened by the mental inferiority that, according to Vallejo-Nájera, Marxism dragged on.

To try to prove his absurd hypothesis, the Palencian psychiatrist surrounded himself with German criminologists and advisers and subjected Republican prisoners of war, as well as volunteers from the International Brigades, to macabre tests that brought them to the brink of collapse. He was convinced that "the perversity of resentment-promoting democratic regimes promotes social failures." Through anthropomorphic measurements and surveys, with questions about sexuality or religion, the dictatorship tried to justify its repression. The investigation concluded that the 'reds' showed a "degenerative character" marked by their tendency to alcoholism, debauchery and promiscuity, in addition to below-average intelligence.

The Franco regime detected a gap in its own study, manipulated to the point of caricature: they had not studied any women. To remedy this, Vallejo-Nájera contacted the director of the psychiatric clinic at the Malaga women's prison, Eduardo Martínez. Together they analyzed fifty inmates, although they waived physical evaluations as they considered the female contours to be "impure." The results, which included details about the sexual life of the inmates, such as the age at which they lost their virginity, which they referred to as "defloration", revealed that temperamental and primary reactions predominated, something that allowed them to affirm that women Republicans had "many points in common" with animals and children. They also claimed to locate schizoid behaviors, mental weakness and introversion.

Francoism spread the idea that there was a red gene that led to moral perversion

Francoist psychiatrists argued that women participated in politics to satisfy their sexual desires. The argument allowed the Catholic religion to impose its strict rules, at that time channeled by the shadowy Women's Section, led by Pilar Primo de Rivera, with the aim of enacting submission to male desires: "When your husband returns from work, offer yourself to take off his shoes. He minimizes any noise. If you have a hobby, he tries not to bore you by talking about it. If you need to apply face cream or hair rollers, he waits until he's asleep. If he feels the need to sleep, so be it. If he suggests the match, then he humbly agrees, keeping in mind that his satisfaction is more important than yours."

Antonio Vallejo-Najera

To the Francoist repression, in the case of women, was added the misogyny of the regime. The discrimination they suffered was twofold. But the darkest side of the psychiatric investigations ordered by Franco in Malaga was yet to be known; the studies, whose hypotheses were considered proven despite the lack of rigor and the inconsistency of the entire process, hid a plan to justify "the segregation of these subjects from childhood" on the understanding that this separation "could free society from terrible plague." In other words: by validating the existence of a “red gene” that causes psychopathies and criminality, the dictatorship believed it could justify the kidnapping of republican children. It is estimated that the number of minors stolen by the Franco regime during the conflict and in the aftermath, one of the most cruel and unknown episodes in the recent history of Spain, amounted to 30,000.

An investigation by professors Encarnación Barranquero, Matilde Eiroa and Paloma Navarro into the Malaga women's prison reveals that the children of inmates, often imprisoned for crimes as ambiguous as "rebellion" or "attacks against public morals", remained with their mothers, in case they cannot stay with another family member, until they are three or six years old, depending on current legislation. Then they came to be protected by state and religious institutions. The presence of minors in prisons is not recorded in the files, something that has made subsequent studies difficult, although from the testimonies collected it can be deduced that the majority of children were given up for adoption or embarked on a career as seminarians, always with the aim of pulverizing any relation to the past.

With its theory, the regime believed it could justify the kidnapping of republican children

The psychiatric services directed by Vallejo-Nájera and Martínez portrayed the inmates of the Malaga prison in detailed reports. Of the fifty women analyzed, more than half had been sentenced to death, although the sentences were eventually commuted. Another of the conclusions exposed the extremely poor consideration that the system had of women, whom it reduced to their role as mothers: "Intelligence atrophies in women like the wings of butterflies on the island of Kerguelen, since his mission in the world is not to fight in life, but to cradle the offspring of those who have to fight for it». The results were later used by Vallejo-Nájera to claim "a modernized Inquisition" that would allow "sanitizing our race." He died in 1960 after publishing nearly thirty books, although his work, in a historical reckoning, has luckily been buried under dust and oblivion.

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