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The Spanish Civil War

A Nationalist fighter throws a grenade at Government soldiers at Burgos. September 12, 1936


The Spanish Civil War began with a military coup. There was a long history of military intervention in Spain’s political life. But the coup of 17–18 July 1936 was an old instrument being used for a new purpose. It aimed to halt the mass political democracy set in train by the effects of the First World War and the Russian Revolution,and accelerated by the ensuing social, economic, and cultural changes of the 1920s and 1930s. In this sense, the military rising against Spain’s democratic Second Republic was the equivalent of the fascist takeovers that followed the coming to power of Mussolini in Italy (1922) and Hitler in Germany (1933) and which were also designed to control similar manifestations of social, political, and cultural change.

THE CAUSES OF THE SPANISH CIVIL WAR

The Spanish Civil war occurred in 1936 and directly caused because of the take-over of the power by the General Franco. However it’s a reality that this civil war had been prepared for years before that: since the Spain lost its monarchy, the government had been unstable and troubled. During the 18th and the 19th centuries, Spain lost its great empire and its old prestige. The Spanish people were annoyed with that and they accused the monarchy. Consequently the Queen Isabella II was deposed. The First Spanish Republic was established. However this Republic was not stable. In 1875, after a military rising, a descendant of the monarchy became King; but it was a constitutional monarchy.
The next Kings ruled in a more and more democratic way. The Spanish parliament was called theCortes. Every men grown-up had the right of vote in the general elections. However, the Spain had difficulties with its colonies in Cuba, the Philippines and Puerto Rico. The Spanish felt humiliated by their lost, in consequence they tried to seized Morocco, but it was a disaster : the local population resisted harshly and caused a lot of trouble. The Spanish were defeated in 1921.
The General Promo de Rivera caused lots of problems in Spain and contributed to warm the atmosphere. In fact he seized the power with the help of the King and of the army. He governed for seven years. He was an authoritative man and he demanded strict army discipline. Moreover he was farer of the Democracy than the Royal old regime: he did not care of the Cortes and closed it down. All political parties were banned.
In 1930 the World Crisis hit the Spain as well as the other country and it had economic difficulties. Primo de Rivera did not get on with the King and he had lost popularity, so he had to resign. In 1931 there were municipal elections and the Republicans won a majority.
There were a lot of specific problems to Spain. One of the most important was the importance of the division among many parts of the country. The regionalism was important, it means that people felt they belonged to one part of the Spain, on region, but not the whole country. They thought they should self-rule and did not want to have a united country. For example the people of Aragon had to promise loyalty to the King of Spain but they showed very little enthusiasm and they swore in a rather blurred way. The Separatism in Spain can be explicated to the divisions due to history and geography. Another example: The Basque Separatists wanted to preserve their own culture. They obtained independence in 1936. Catalonia had its own Parliament. The Catalans felt as a separated culture. They obtained a Statue of Autonomy in 1932.
There were two kings of lands for agriculture in Spain; the latifundia and the minifundias. The first ones were great and owned by wealthy people and poor peasants were hired to cultivate them. But they were paid a misery so there were an enormous amounts of poor labourers in Spain in the 19320s: about 2,500,000. The second ones were fund mainly in Catalonia and Valencia. There were small farms and were too miserable to feed a family. The poor conditions of life led to agrarian violence. It’s an explication for the popularity of the communism among the poor: they promised them land, food and equality.
Another problem of the country was the power of the Church. The Catholic Church was very wealthy, so it took the side of the rich in the arguments. It was a conservative institution. Consequently, except in the Basques region, the Clergy became unpopular among the workers, who joined communist and anarchist groups. The Church was the symbol of the gap between rich and poor.
The Army was too a conservative institution. It was fond of the old way of life and their officer came from aristocracy. It was too used to suppress the restless peasants. The Civil Guard was charged of that. A short-term cause of the Civil war was the decision of the Army to oppose the left-wing government.
The arguments between the left and the right were frequent and were a source of division in Spain. The main conservative party was the Catholic one and led the opposition to the government. His leader, Gil Robles, publicly expressed his admiration for the Nazis.
The Nationalist Bloc had for leader Calvo Sotelo and was a coalition of Monarchists, Fascists and other people of the right-wing. They wanted to fight the spread of communism and anarchism. The members of the left-wing were called the Republicans and favoured a constitutional democracy and it was led by Manuel Azana. The Socialist party wanted to change Spain by peaceful and democratic ways. The Communists and the Anarchists were members of the right-wing. Their main leader was Dolores Ibarruri, a great orator. The Anarchist aimed to destroy the government. Their leader was Buenventura Durruti.
The most preoccupant problem of the Spain was the terrible situation of the landless peasants. A law was written: The Agrarian Law, in 1932, obtained land for peasants but it applied in very few areas. The government became impopular. The next elections provided right-wing government. Under the new government the last reforms were repealed. A military dictatorship was feared but the left-wing. Strikes and demonstrations occurred which were took over control violently by the general Franco.
A coalition of the left-wing formed in 1936 a popular front. They won the elections in
1936. They wanted to introduce reforms and to reduce the strikes by giving land to peasants, but it was to late: many people took lands for themselves by force, churches were burned and disorder widespread.
An army revolt was again feared, because the generals worried about collapse of law and order. The general Franco and other Generals decided in secret to make a coup d’état against the government of the “Godless republic”. The leader of the Monarchists party was assassinated, that decided them to act.
The Civil War began few days later. The Army defeated the left-wing republican forces, and the war lasted six years.
In conclusion, the Spanish Civil War did not happened in a short moment but the weakness of the regimes, the intense feeling of not-belonging, the division between rich and poor, right and left, Church and workers and the extreme poverty of most of the population created bad conditions and agitation in the whole country. The Army was the main mean to take the power and the officers and generals were powerful, that’s why such an insurrection had been possible. Finally, even if the Civil war had been bloody and the General Franco was not fond of liberty and democracy, he succeeded afterward to achieve a stable government.



Spanish Civil war in brief. (Click on image to enlarge)

---------------------------------------
1930-31: Primo de Rivera was forced to resign in 1930. Elections were held and the Republicans won a landslide, so in 1931 King Alfonso XIII abdicated.



1931-33: A Left Wing government ruled Spain with Azana the key figure.


1933-36: A Right-Wing government ruled Spain, with Robles the key figure.


1936: A Left Wing Popular Front government ruled Spain, led by Azana.


1936: A Right-Wing rebellion started the Spanish Civil War, led by Franco.

--------------------------------------------------------------



BACKGROUND TO THE CIVIL WAR
Spain’s Second Republic was born, and survived, in discouraging international circumstances: the Great Depression corroding Europe’s economies and societies;Hitler extinguishing Weimar pluralism and challenging the European status quo; a brutal ‘revolution from above’ in the USSR; and, in Mussolini’s Italy, a corporate state which bound together workers and managers, ostensibly for the national good. To many in Spain, such developments were healthy, a precedent to be followed.

Between its birth in April 1931 and March 1939 when its last Prime Minister, Juan Negrín, fell from power, the Second Republic experienced fifteen changes of government. This in itself, however, says nothing specific of individual government tenure, one criterion for ‘stability’. Azaña’s first stint as Prime Minister, from October 1931, lasted nearly two years;at the other extreme, in July 1936 the government of Martínez Barrio survived for barely twelve hours. Of the eleven peacetime governments,eight lasted for six months or less. Add to this the political, social and economic ‘wars’ already being waged by interest groups all over Spain against these governments (let alone each other) by strikes, propaganda,obstruction and insurrection, and it may seem remarkable not only that anything significant was achieved but that civil war was delayed for so long. At times, Spain seemed locked into a vortex of instability.

In a democratic environment, what does political stability require?More than an origin based on consensus, which in April 1931 the Republic seemed superficially to have, it needs even-handedness and political subtlety. But these, unlike anxiety and disillusionment, were in short supply. For every newspaper banned, there was an inflammatory speech in the Cortes or at a party rally; for every politician imprisoned, an intimidating parade or debilitating strike. In turn, state attempts to restore equilibrium by force were often counter-productive. Indeed, the theme of provocation is woven throughout the Second Republic. There was readiness to provoke and to be provoked. When, in October 1934,ministers from the Spanish Confederation of Autonomous Rightist Groups (CEDA) joined Lerroux’s government, ‘the Socialists [took] the bait and launched a hopeless assault on the state’, the most dramatic example being the Asturias Rising and subsequent commune which held out for two weeks before being crushed.


The self-interest and self-image of groups and institutions were not only hurt by single-issue reforms aimed by the state directly at them.For example, the army was also antagonistic towards Catalan autonomy because it would destroy the unity of the Patria.

Similarly, the Church was deeply anxious about land reform and the new politics: CEDA, the Church’s political wing, described the ‘atheistic’ Republic as a communist class dictatorship hostile to the family, private property and the free market.



When centrifugal forces were at work concurrently, then chronic instability would follow. In 1933–4 both CEDA on the right and disillusioned Socialists on the left, led by Largo Caballero, were becoming more anti-constitutional in outlook. For the left this process had already begun in 1931, when its more radical elements felt that their idealized‘new Spain’ was being sold out to compromise. The right countered with accusations that the old Spain was being subverted by revolutionary reform. 

Indeed, much venom was spat at the governments of the Second Republic: that they were more like pressure groups than governments,that their leaders were agitators not statesmen, that their law-enforcement was lawless and that they were led by their followers. And however decisively governments introduced reform, or reneged on it or repealed it, outcry was certain: from those who sought more change(Socialist, Communist or anarchist) and those who wanted no progressive legislation at all – army, Church and landowners, great and small.

Franco's Falangist militia during the Battle of Madrid. July 30, 1936

THE SPANISH CIVIL WAR: HOW IT BEGAN

▪ The Republican government granted Catalan autonomy,much to the disgust of the Right.▪ The Agrarian Reform Law allowed the state to nationalise the latifundiaand then hand them over to the peasants;however, compensating the landowners was complicated and expensive, and the government was divided on the issue of collectivisation and so, it was never implemented on a large scale. As a result it angered the landowners yet disappointed the peasants too.▪ Primo’s Labour Arbitration Scheme was extended and improved with the help of the UGT, which trebled its membership during this period.

▪ The Jesuits were dissolved, the state withdrew subsidies to the Church, civil marriage was permitted,divorce was allowed and Prime Minister Azana, well-known for being direct and honest (or insensitive and arrogant, depending on your perspective), said “all the convents in Madrid are not worth the life of a single Republican”.

▪ Half of the officer corps were pressed into retirement at full pay (leaving little money for social reform); Azana told the army they had no right to challenge the government; a military revolt by General Sanjuro in 1932 was crushed.

▪ The government’s measures led to the foundation of the right-wing Catholic CEDA party led by Gil Robles. At the same time a fascist party – the Falange (Phalanx) - was established by the son of Primo de Rivera, Jose Antonio.

In 1933 government troops shot dead anarchist prisoners in Cadiz. This precipitated a crisis that led to elections being called for November 1933.

▪ A right-wing coalition government assumed power after the elections. It reversed the process of reform and cancelled the measures against the Church.The period from 1933 to 1935 became known as the “ two black years ” by those on the Left, who became divided between socialists (led by Prieto ) who favoured involvement with the coalition and those of the UGT (led by Caballero) who favoured violent opposition to it.

▪ In 1934 opposition to the reactionary government exploded into outright violence in the Asturias Uprising : an anarchist miners’ revolt lasting two weeks which was only suppressed with difficulty by the troops of General Franco, who became known as the "Butcher of Asturias". Mass arrests followed (even Azana was briefly arrested), left wing newspapers were closed and the Catalan Autonomy Statute was suspended.

▪ The Asturias Uprising was “a watershed in the history of the Republic”(Knight). It pushed the Left (especially the UGT of Caballero, the ‘Spanish Lenin’)towards a more revolutionary position, and convinced the Right that the Fascism promoted by Rivera’s Falange was the only means of controlling the workers.

▪ The international situation strongly influenced this polarising trend: the growing power of Fascism and Communism in Europe convinced many on both sides of the political spectrum that a moderate political stance would mean disaster. The Countdown to War 

▪ In 1936 an election was called.

▪ A Popular Front of Communists, Socialists, Republicans and Separatists was formed to oppose the government. The right wing formed the National Front
.Increasing tension meant that the Left now regarded the Right as Fascists; the Right regarded the Left as Communists.

▪ The Popular Front won only slightly more votes than the National Front, but the voting system transformed this into a decisive majority of seats in Parliament.▪ However, Caballero’s socialists, still bitter about the failures of Azana’s earlier government, refused to join. This weakened not only the government but also the Left wing of Spanish politics as a whole.

▪ Despite these problems, the new government immediately reintroduced the reforms of the 1931-3 government, banned the Falange and posted Franco to Morocco to keep him out of the picture.

▪ Disorder and political violence spread throughout the country.

▪ The anarchist CNT encouraged the peasants to take over the land;

▪ The socialist UGT called a general strike among the  proletariat 

▪ The fascist Falange started to grow dramatically.▪ Most seriously, the army began plotting to overthrow the ineffectual new government. The leader of the plot was General
Mola

.▪ On the 13th of July the monarchist politician, Calvo Sotelo, was assassinated by Republican police in revenge for the murder of one of their men by a Falangist. The military now had the perfect pretext to make their move. The revolt began on the 17th of July in Spanish Morocco – led by Franco.


GERMANY'S FEARS

Germany could not tolerate a Communist Spain under any circumstances. As a National Socialist [Hitler] had the obligation to do everything to prevent that eventuality . . . If a Communist Spain actually does emerge, in view of the current situation in France the Bolshevisation of that country is only a matter of a short time and then Germany can ‘pack up’ [einpacken]. Hemmed in between the powerful Soviet bloc in the East and a strong Franco-Spanish communist bloc in the West we could hardly do anything, if Moscow decides to act against Germany.
----------------------------
Hermann Goering, Nuremburg Trials, 1946

When the civil war broke out in Spain, Franco sent a call for help to Germany . . . The Fuhrer thought the matter over. I urged him to give support under all circumstances, firstly in order to prevent the further spread of communism in that theater, and secondly to test my young Luftwaffe at this opportunity in this or that technical respect. With the permission of the Fuhrer I sent a large part of my transport fleet and a number of experimental fighters, bombers, and anti-aircraft guns; and in that way I had an opportunity to ascertain, under combat conditions, whether the material was equal to the task. In order that the personnel, too, might gather a certain amount of experience, I saw to it that there was a continuous flow,that is, that new people were constantly being sent and others recalled.

GERMANY AND ITALY'S REASONS FRO INTERVENING IN THE SPANISH CIVIL WAR

In intervening in the civil war in Spain both the Italians and Germans were highly motivated by ideological, strategic and economic considerations but it was the first of these that initially drove their intervention and sustained it thereafter. The common struggle against Bolshevism, above all preventing a victorious communist republic emerging from the Spanish conflict, with its consequent encouragement for international communism and its negative ramifications for the advance of fascism in Europe.


The 14th International Brigade fighting for thr Republicans. 1937. The 14th International Brigade was one of several international brigades that fought for the Spanish Second Republic during the Spanish Civil War. It was raised on 20 December 1936 with volunteers mainly from France and Belgium, under General "Walter" (Karol Świerczewski). This Brigade was the fourth of the international brigades, and it mixed veterans with new, idealistic volunteers. It was formally named the Marseillaise Brigade, after the French revolutionary song. After the Nationalist strategic victory in the Battle of Brunete (6–25 July 1937), heavy losses reduced the brigade strength from four to two battalions. However, the brigade lived on and was able to take part in the last Republican offensive of the war. As with all of the volunteer international brigades, the members of the XIV International Brigade faced a dark future after the eventual Nationalist victory.

The military insurrection broke out on July 18, 1936.

Two weeks later the rebels were in possession of a brand-new air-fleet of German and Italian planes, manned by German and Italian pilots, mechanics and instructors; Italian tanks were already in action at Badajoz; Irun was being bombarded by German heavy artillery . . .Technicians also were pouring into the country . . .

Italian regular troops landed in Majorca: and by the end of October this largest of the Balearic Islands had become virtually an Italian possession. Week by week the number of foreigners in the rebel army grew.On November 18, by which time the capital and three fifths of Spain were in the hands of the constitutionally elected Government,Germany and Italy proclaimed General Franco ruler of Spain.During the winter months of 1936–7, Italy landed 85–90,000 infantry in Spain, while Germany took over various specialised technical functions in the rebel army: motor transport, tanks and anti-tank guns, anti-aircraft guns, coastal batteries, and heavy artillery.On February 9, 1937, the Italians captured Malaga . . .The Spanish War is for the dictatorships in many respects a dress rehearsal for the world war for which it is preparing the way


The Republican soldiers
THE WEAKNESS OF THE SPANISH REPUBLIC

Between its birth in April 1931 and March 1939 when its last Prime Minister, Juan Negrín, fell from power, the Second Republic experienced fifteen changes of government. This in itself, however, says nothing specific of individual government tenure, one criterion for ‘stability’. Azaña’s first stint as Prime Minister, from October 1931, lasted nearly two years;at the other extreme, in July 1936 the government of Martínez Barrio survived for barely twelve hours. Of the eleven peacetime governments,eight lasted for six months or less. Add to this the political, social and economic ‘wars’ already being waged by interest groups all over Spain against these governments (let alone each other) by strikes, propaganda,obstruction and insurrection, and it may seem remarkable not only that anything significant was achieved but that civil war was delayed for so long. At times, Spain seemed locked into a vortex of instability


An armored car of the Anarchists. (Click here for information of Anarchists during the Spanish Civil War)
THE BRITISH RESPONSE

Neville Chamberlain, British Prime Minister, speech in the House of Commons, 22nd February,1938

Our policy has been consistently directed to one aim - to maintain the peace of Europe by confining the war to Spain. Although it is true that intervention has been going on and is going on, in spite of the Non-Intervention Agreement, yet it is also true that we have succeeded in achieving the object at the back of our policy, and we shall continue that object and policy as long as we feel there is reasonable hope of avoiding a spread of the conflict

THE SOVIET RESPONSE

Message from Soviet Union Defense Commissar Kliment Voroshilov to Stalin regarding support for the Republican government, September 1936

"Preparing for dispatch 100 tanks, 387 specialists; sending 30 fighter aircraft without guns, and 15 planes fully equipped with crews and bombs. Ship to leave from Mexico for Cartagena, Spain.

ITALY'S RESPONSE


Mussolini's response to appeals for armed assistance from the Spanish insurgents following their failed military coup of 17-18 July 1936, which precipitated the civil war in Spain, was initially cautious. Only when he had assured himself, on the basis of reports from Italian diplomats, that neither France nor Britain nor Soviet Russia intended to intervene did the Italian dictator give the green light, on 27 July, for the dispatch of aircraft to assist in the airlift of pro-rebel Spanish Moroccan forces to the Spanish mainland and arms and munitions to those fighting in Spain. His decision to intervene was made in the expectation that a small amount of Italian war material would be decisive for the rebellion. It was based, partly at least, on Franco's personal assurances to
the Italian Minister Plenipotentiary, Pier Filippo de Rossi del Lion Nero, and his Military Attaché, Major Guiseppe Luccardi, that victory for the rebels would be certain and quick  provided some outside assistance was forthcoming, and that with victory he intended to establish „a republican government in the fascist style adopted for the Spanish people.

Franco's men
FROM  A Memoir of the Spanish Civil War: An Armenian-Canadian in the Lincoln Battalion by D P Stephens

Considering the political and military situation at the time, it might have appeared that the Franco forces (who called themselves the "nationalists") would encounter little sustained resistance, especially since almost from the outset the insurgents had military support from both Germany and Italy.That the Republican forces were able to maintain a three-year military effort against Franco was due in large part to an enormous international volunteer effort. By July 1937, one year after the outbreak of war, battalions of international volunteers had been formed, and over the course of the war some 40,000 volunteers from Germany, France, Russia, Great Britain, Poland, Hungary,Yugoslavia, Italy, the Balkans, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Albania, the United States, Canada,and elsewhere, poured into Spain to fight on the side of the republicans.The main organizational force behind this effort was the Communist International in Moscow, which undertook a major recruitment and transportation campaign. For committed communists, the war was an opportunity to put their political principles into action. For others, the Communist Party seemed to be the only major international force prepared to confront Franco, and the Party's recruitment campaign provided the means for participation. To many, regardless of their political beliefs, stopping Franco in Spain appeared crucial when one considered the implications of a fascist victory for the rest of Europe and the world, especially with the Hitler and Mussolini regimes increasing in both influence and aggression,


Bomber "Savoy Marchetti" with its Italian crew, accompanied by Fiat CR.32 fighters bombs Madrid. November 1936.
Spanish Nationalist soldiers on the Central Front. 1937
Italian soldiers in Spain
German Stuka Dive Bomber, the JU 87, flies in the Spanish skies in 1939
Spanish refugees on the French border in 1939
Madrid after being bombed on December 3, 1936
Republican soldiers at Brunete. On the left is the legendary Valentin Gonzalez. Valentín González is mentioned in Ernest Hemingway's book For Whom the Bell Tolls through the thoughts of Robert Jordan, who described him as brave and tough, a man who "never knew when everything was lost and if it was he would fight out of it."
The tanks of the rivals. A Republican soldier rides a Soviet supplied T 26 tank.

Franco's Panzer 1 tank. Converted  German tank Pz.I - with an increased tower and a 20-mm cannon.
A surrendered rebel led to a summary court-martial July 27, 1936 in Madrid.
German tanks from the 'Legion Condor' in Spain

T-26 tanks in Spain

Soldiers train women loyalists how to fire a rifle to protect the city of Barcelona against fascist General Francisco Franco during the Spanish Civil War. June 2, 1937.
Ernest Hemingway with Republicn soldiers on the Aragon front in a photo by Robert Capa

Rebel fighters with their German trainers at Huesca, northern Spain on December 30, 1936
Rebel militia fighters. July 30, 1936. The man on the right is wearing a government army uniform. Probably changed sides.

"Viva Rusia". "Glory to Russia". A graffiti on a wall in a Spanish town
The Anarchists, CNT (Confederación Nacional del Trabajo), receive arms in 1936

The Battle of Alcazar. 1936. The soldiers of the republican forces fighting for Alcazar of Toledo, in September 1936. Alcazar was a fortress at the highest point in Toledo. The fortress was defended by rebel colonel Jose Moskardo Ituarte and was almost completely destroyed by the troops of the Second Republic during the siege, which lasted 70 days from July 22 to September 28 in 1936. Participated in the siege of the forces and CNT-FAI UGT-PSOE, as well as assault guards.
Republican troops being sent to the front
Preciados Street in Madrid ruined by bombing

Republican soldiers in Teruel, 1938

Women government soldiers

February 2, 1939. An elderly man quarrels with a young woman over a loaf of bread


Republican soldiers cross the River Ebro in 1938


Preparation for the final defense of Madrid.
REFERENCES

1. The Spanish Civil War by Andrew Forrest
2A Memoir of the Spanish Civil War: An Armenian-Canadian in the Lincoln Battalion by D. P. Stephens

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1 Comment:

Balbino Cerro said...

Hello, many many text of the pics are erroneus......

Regards

Balbino

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