Civil War, SpainContinue reading
Hugely symbolic three-year conflict in which the Second Spanish Republic, governed by a center-right coalition including both conservative Catholics and liberals, was overthrown by right-wing nationalist forces led by General Franco, who went on to establish a dictatorship that lasted until his death. The impact of the war was felt far beyond Spain, and it aroused a huge emotional response across the world on both sides of the political divide. Franco’s cause was widely identified with the cause of fascism, and many volunteers made their way to Spain to help support or oppose him. Franco was, however, a devout Catholic, and his real ethos had more to do with authoritarian conservatism than with fascism. His true sympathies were obscured for a long time because he accepted military assistance from Mussolini and from Hitler. Moreover, in the public mind his cause was indelibly bonded to that of Nazism as a result of the horrific bombing of Guernica by the Condor Legion, an event that foreshadowed the mass bombings of World War II.
The uprising followed a period of considerable political and social unrest with general strikes, street fighting, and in 1934 a miners’ uprising in Asturias. Its immediate cause lay in a lurch to the left in Spanish politics in 1936. The elections of 16 February brought to power a popular front government backed by the Left and the Center and opposed by the Right. This regime did not manage to stabilize the situation, and on 7 April the president was deposed by the parliament and replaced by Prime Minister Manuel AzaÑa. Whereas the fascistic Falange movement founded in 1933 had obtained only 0.07 percent of the vote in the February elections, membership had grown rapidly to 40,000 by July. Tensions continued to rise, and on 17 July a conservative uprising was initiated. In principle, the uprising—whose main leaders were Sanjurjo and Mola—had been agreed for 18 July 1936, but at 5:00 p.m. on the evening of the day before in Melilla, a group of military men jumped the gun with a coup; in a few hours the rebellion had spread to Morocco, where the high commissioner was imprisoned. On 18 July, Franco left Las Palmas de Gran Canaria for Tetuan, where he took command of the Moroccan troops on 19 July. However, at this point the scenario on the mainland was not very encouraging for the insurgents. The uprising collapsed disastrously in the majority of the industrial areas and in places like Valencia and the Basque Country, which fought to defend the Republican regime in exchange for the promise of obtaining the longed-for Statute of Autonomy, which in the end was promulgated by the Cortes on 1 October 1936, the same day that Franco took over as head of the Spanish state. However, the rebellion did triumph in Zaragoza, Valladolid, Burgos, Pamplona, and Galicia. In Seville, General Queipo de Llano managed to take control of the city in the space of a few hours. There were different scenarios in Madrid and Barcelona, where militants of the parties of the Left and the unions in collaboration with the Guardia de Asalto and the Guardia Civil held firm against the uprising. General Goded had reached Barcelona on 19 July to put himself at the head of the insurgents, but he was taken prisoner by Republican loyalists.
The government of the Republic acted with extreme pusillanimity. Casares Quiroga resigned, unable to cope with the situation; his successor, Martínez Barrio, held the position for only the 18th and 19th and tried to negotiate with the rebel general Mola, offering him the war portfolio, which he rejected. Finally, under the leadership of Barrio’s successor, José Giral, between 19 July and 4 September the government decided to arm the voluntary popular militias. The vacuum of power grew, with committees and patrols everywhere corresponding to each party and union. A part of the army and the Civil Guard remained loyal to the Republic, and the rebels failed in their objective of taking Madrid; hence the rising turned into a civil war that lasted for about three years.
José Primera de Rivera, founder of Falange, threw in his lot with the nationalists, and Falange became the dominant political movement on that side. The Falange manifesto of November 1934 was highly nationalistic and spoke of Spain as entitled to a position “of pre-eminence in world affairs” as “the spiritual axis of the Spanish-speaking world.” Its tone was jingoistic, and it played on nostalgia for Spain’s great seaborne empire, which had been lost for more than a hundred years. It spoke unashamedly of the need for the Spanish state to be totalitarian and advocated the establishment of a corporatist system. It promised to abolish the parliamentary system and do away with divisive parties—the unity of the nation was to be paramount. It specifically rejected both capitalism and Marxism but spoke of nationalizing the banks while promising to preserve private property. The mission of the state in education was to “produce a strong, united, national spirit and fill the souls of future generations with joy and pride in their Fatherland.” The role of “the Catholic spirit” was accepted, and it was indeed described as “glorious,” although the Catholic Church was told not to do anything to “undermine the dignity of the state.” The implied or expressed contempt for the Christian religion to be found in Italian Fascism and in German Nazism was absent here. The program was certainly ultranationalist, and it clearly proposed a “third way” between capitalism and socialism. But a number of powerful ingredients of classic fascism were missing, or at least muted—the glorification of violence, the warrior ethos, the elevation of a political creed to a new political religion that excluded the Catholic Church.
One of the declared aims of the rebellion was to combat the anticlericalism of the Republican government, and the war was a painful experience for the Catholic Church: a dozen bishops, nearly 300 nuns, well over 2,000 monks, and more than 4,000 priests were murdered by the progovernment forces, and that did little to endear the Republican cause to Catholics. Many churches and religious properties were torched. (The situation was different in the Basque region, because of the issue of Basque nationalism.) There were, however, a range of political ideologies on the two sides. Generally speaking, though, it is fair to say that the progovernment Republican side held leftist/liberal principles, while the Nationalists were rightists.
From the beginning, the Spanish Civil War acquired an international character. The government of the Republic had to draw on the gold reserves of the Banco de EspaÑa to obtain arms abroad ("Moscow gold"); Hitler’s Germany and Mussolini’s Italy sent aid to the rebels in the form of every type of military equipment, men, and money. However, the France of Leon Blum—although favorable to the Republic—with the energetic support of Great Britain proposed the formula of “nonintervention” between 4 and 5 August 1936; on 6 August the USSR adhered to this accord, although with reservations. In practice the measure did not work, and the Germans and the Italians continued to send help to the rebel side, while the Communist Party was acquiring an increasingly influential role with the resolute support of the USSR for the Republican side. Meanwhile the International Brigades were being established to bring help to the Republic and for the cause of liberty in the battle against a cause widely identified as “fascist”; they comprised volunteers (intellectuals, workers, journalists, writers) of different nationalities.
In addition to the support they received through the German and Italian (and also Portuguese) governments (amounting to more than 100,000 professional soldiers), the Nationalist insurgents also attracted volunteers. Their numbers were modest, at around 12,000, compared with the 35,000 to 40,000 who flocked from all quarters to join the International Brigades, but still symbolic. Their motivations for rallying to the nationalist flag were diverse. They came from France, White Russia (mainly from Parisian emigre circles), Romania, Ireland, and the United Kingdom, among other places. For the Russians the battle seemed like the first step toward overturning the 1917 Revolution. There were romantic Catholic intellectuals like Roy Campbell and true fascist sympathizers like Eoin O’Duffy, who brought with him an Irish brigade 670 strong. The French integral nationalist Charles Maurras made many visits and reported what he had witnessed on his return home. The English Catholic convert Sir Arnold Lunn made two trips to the Peninsula that were orchestrated by Franco’s propaganda agents and produced Spanish Rehearsal, which has been described as “a handbook for Franco’s supporters in the English-speaking world.”
Between April and October 1937 the last redoubts of the Cantabrian coast—Vizcaya, Santander and Asturias—fell into the hands of Franco with the help of the Carlist forces and the German air force, which on 26 April literally destroyed the city of Guernica with phosphorus bombs. On 7 May, General Moral died in a plane crash and was replaced by General Davila. On 19 June the rebels succeeded in occupying Bilbao, and the gudaris—Basque nationalist battalions—surrendered to Italian troops in Santoña. In July the Spanish episcopate, favorable to the Nationalists from the start, signed a collective letter—though without the signatures of the archbishops of Tarragona and Vitoria—giving support to the insurrection and recognizing its legitimacy. From May 1937 the military situation worsened for the Republican side; Largo Caballero resigned and was replaced by Negrin, until then minister of finance; the anarchists left the executive, and the government moved from Valencia to Barcelona on 30 October 1937. In December 1937 the battle raged around Teruel. The army of the Republic had taken the city on 7 January 1938 but lost it again on 22 February. Franco’s troops razed government positions in Aragon, occupied the slopes of the Ebro, the zone of Maestrazgo, and reached Vinaroz on 15 April. Catalonia was isolated. Then they divided, one part headed East to Lerida, and the other south to attack Valencia. In May the Negrin government drew up a document—the “Three Points”—in which they proposed ending foreign interference and guaranteeing the continuity of democracy and the exclusion of all political persecution after the conclusion of hostilities; others proposed a peace treaty to avoid an anticipated cruel repression. By the end of 1938, Catalonia had fallen into the power of the rebels, who on 26 January 1939 took Barcelona to get to the Pyrenaean front on 10 February. The Negrin government favored continuing the war at all cost, hoping that a world war would break out and that Spain would become an integral part of the international war scenario. However, on 27 February, one month after the fall of Barcelona, the United Kingdom and France recognized the Franco government. On the following day AzaÑa—from his exile in France—resigned his position as president of the Republic.
On 28 March 1939, Franco made his entrance into Madrid, and the members of the Defense Council—with the exception of Julián Besteiro, who was taken prisoner, judged by a military tribunal, and condemned to thirty years’ imprisonment—fled Spain. Meanwhile, Italian troops entered Alicante on 30 March and blockaded the port, and surrender soon followed. On 1 April 1939, Franco signed the last communique of the war: “The war is over.” The Republic had been crushed.
See Also: introduction; anticlericalism; antifascism; authoritarianism; blitzkrieg; capitalism; catholic church, the; christianity; clerico-fascism; conservatism; corporatism; expansionism; falange; fascist party, the; france; franco y bahamonde, general francisco; francoism; germany; great britain; guernica; hitler, adolf; integral nationalism; international brigades, the; international fascism; imperialism; ireland; irredentism; italy; luftwaffe, the; marxism; marxist theories of fascism; maurras, charles; mussolini, benito andrea; nationalism; nazism; o’duffy, eoin; orwell, george; parliamentarism; peru; portugal; primo de rivera, josé antonio; religion; romania; socialism; soviet union, the; spain; totalitarianism; tradition; violence; warrior ethos, the; world war ii
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