Why was the Republican government of Spain so slow to react to the Nationalist revolt?

Why was the Republican government of Spain so slow to react to the Nationalist revolt?

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I have been reading the Battle for Spain by Antony Beevor. One of the arguments the author makes is that the first 48 hours of the July 17th military uprising was the most vital period in which a strong government response could have crushed the nationalist rebellion. However, despite knowledge of the uprising the government Quiroga seemed completely unwilling to take the necessary action of arming the workers. In a message released the next day from Madrid notes the lack of urgency felt by the Republican government, "The government states that the movement is confined to certain areas in the Protectorate [Morocco] and that no one, absolutely no one, on the mainland has joined this absurd venture".[Beevor, 2006]

Despite this, there appears to have been numerous Republican generals and members of the CNT and UGT trade unions who warned the government to the intentions of the nationalists plotters of Sanjurjo, Mola, and Franco. It seems implausible that the government of Spain could be so blind to what was going on in Morocco. Granted I doubt that the more moderate socialists and liberals in the Republican government wanted to arm the workers and there seems to have been attempts to negotiate peace, but there seems to be more at play here. Why didn't the Republican government attempt some sort of possible military response to the right wing rebellion?

The Spanish Civil War started as a combination of an officers' revolt, plus a coup.

The coup "failed," as such (few government leaders were captured by the Nationalists). That may have led to a false sense of security by the government.

They probably thought that it was just a rising of a few disaffected officers, and not a full-scale rebellion that would require heroic measures to suppress. Nor could they see the Franco forces winning over about half of the population for a civil war, which the Nationalists could then win, given help from Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany. Of course the government soon changed its mind, but its "reaction time" was greater than 48 hours.

Plus the fact that the indicated course of action was to arm the workers to fight the army. That was a scenario that the basically centrist government feared about as much as the army itself. If they had followed this course of action, perhaps there would have been a workers' revolution that left us wondering: "Why didn't the government side with the generals against the workers?"

Points to be taken into account:

  • In the months leading to the coup, there had been lots of political violence and terrorism.

  • the workers that would be receiving weapons would not be under the government control, they would be managed by the trade unions/political parties they belonged to.

With the enemy (as far as the government knew) isolated in Africa (without German help it is dubious that they could have moved the army to mainlaind Spain with the required speed), it did not make a lot of sense to give weapons to workers in Sevilla or A Coruña. In fact, it could present more problems than advantages:

  • If the trade unions / political parties refused to return the weapons after the crisis. And even if they agreed, given the confussion, it would be most likely that many weapons would not be recovered and in the hands of the more radical grups or regular criminals.

  • It could convince military leaders that the Government was in the hands (or at least could not stop) the trade unions/political parties militias and that their only chance of keeping an stable government (or even their personal survival) was joining the rebels.

Even after a few months of war, the situation in the Republican zone remained chaotic so, while a posteriori it could be said that the best course of action was arming the militias, it is understandable that the Government hesitated to do so.

You concentrate in general Franco as the only leader. The Coup was lead by the commander Sanjurjo followed by Mola in the Peninsula and Franco as the leader of the Afrikan army (the best with the most experience in combat).

The republican side has the important industrial areas, major part of the navy and the whole Air force. While nationalists has the best part of the army with more professional soldiers, the legion (the best unit of the spanish army) was nationalists but was in Afrika. Thats why the nationalists were not enough to surrender madrid not even any offensive until General Franco arrived with the army. Mola achieved the conquest of the industrial north coast after the failure to conquer Madrid.

With the navy in Gibraltar strait waters, Franco was unable to land in the Peninsula so he asked for help to the Germans with transport planes. Germany accepted giving Franco total Air superiority in adition of Italian air force. The soviet union's help arrived but after the arrive of Afrikan army lead by franco. Once afrikan army arrive to the war, the nationalists army was victory over victory. However, The Fall of th commander Sanjurjo and the marshall Mola provocked a military officer meeting. By prestige Franco was chosen as the supreme leader and head of State of Spain but with commitment to be a transitory government until the king came back.

The propaganda made Franco the leader of the crusade against the communist revolution started by Republican-left politicians (the counter-revolution against communism). The political from the center to Far-right gave him total loyalty. After, the victory of the war proclaim that "the red army has been defeated". However, when the moment arrive to give back the power to the king decided to delay the decision until ww2 ended.

Britain and the Spanish Civil War

In 1936 the Conservative government feared the spread of communism from the Soviet Union to the rest of Europe. Stanley Baldwin, the British prime minister, shared this concern and was fairly sympathetic to the military uprising in Spain against the left-wing Popular Front government.

Leon Blum, the prime minister of the Popular Front government in France, initially agreed to send aircraft and artillery to help the Republican Army in Spain. However, after coming under pressure from Stanley Baldwin and Anthony Eden in Britain, and more right-wing members of his own cabinet, he changed his mind.

In the House of Commons on 29th October 1936, Clement Attlee, Philip Noel-Baker and Arthur Greenwood argued against the government policy of Non-Intervention. As Noel-Baker pointed out: "We protest with all our power against the sham, the hypocritical sham, that it now appears to be."

On the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War the Spanish Medical Aid Committee, an organization that had been set-up by the Socialist Medical Association and other progressive groups, was formed. Members included Kenneth Sinclair Loutit, Lord Faringdon, Arthur Greenwood, Tom Mann, Ben Tillett, Harry Pollitt, Hugh O'Donnell, Mary Redfern Davies and Isobel Brown. Soon afterwards Loutit was appointed Administrator of the Field Unit that was to be sent to Spain. According to Tom Buchanan, the author of Britain and the Spanish Civil War (1997), "he disregarded a threat of disinheritance from his father to volunteer."

Stanley Baldwin and Leon Blum now called for all countries in Europe not to intervene in the Spanish Civil War. In September 1936 a Non-Intervention Agreement was drawn-up and signed by 27 countries including Germany, Britain, France, the Soviet Union and Italy.

David Low, Correct Attitudes in Spain (5th August, 1936)

Benito Mussolini continued to give aid to General Francisco Franco and his Nationalist forces and during the first three months of the Nonintervention Agreement sent 90 Italian aircraft and refitted the cruiser Canaris, the largest ship in the Nationalists' fleet.

On 28th November the Italian government signed a secret treaty with the Spanish Nationalists. In return for military aid, the Nationalist agreed to allow Italy to establish bases in Spain in the case of a conflict with France. Over the next three months Mussolini sent to Spain 130 aircraft, 2,500 tons of bombs, 500 cannons, 700 mortars, 12,000 machine-guns, 50 whippet tanks and 3,800 motor vehicles.

Adolf Hitler also continued to give aid to General Francisco Franco and his Nationalist forces but attempted to disguise this by sending the men, planes, tanks, and munitions via Portugal. He also gave permission for the formation of the Condor Legion. The initial force consisted a Bomber Group of three squadrons of Ju-52 bombers a Fighter Group with three squadrons of He-51 fighters a Reconnaissance Group with two squadrons of He-99 and He-70 reconnaissance bombers and a Seaplane Squadron of He-59 and He-60 floatplanes.

The Condor Legion, under the command of General Hugo Sperrle, was an autonomous unit responsible only to Franco. The legion would eventually total nearly 12,000 men. Sperrle demanded higher performance aircraft from Germany and he eventually received the Heinkel He111, Junkers Stuka and the Messerschmitt Bf109. It participated in all the major engagements including Brunete, Teruel, Aragon and Ebro.

The Labour Party originally supported the government's non-intervention policy. However, when it became clear that Hitler and Mussolini were determined to help the Nationalists win the war, Labour leaders began to call for Britain to supply the Popular Front with military aid. Some members of the party joined the International Brigades and fought for the Republicans in Spain.

A. J. Ayer pointed out in his autobiography, Part of My Life (1977): "What awakened me to politics was not the menace of Hitler or the plight of the unemployed in England, for all that I sympathized with the hunger marchers, but the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War. This was an issue which I saw entirely in black and white. Franco was a military adventurer employing Moorish, Italian and German troops to massacre his own countrymen in the interest of rapacious landlords allied with a bigoted and reactionary church. The Republican Government against which he was in rebellion was the legitimate government of Spain: its supporters were fighting not only for their freedom but for a new and better social order. The I fact that the anarchists, initially much more numerous than the i communists, played such a conspicuous part in the Spanish working class movement increased my sympathy for it."

The first British volunteer to be killed was Felicia Browne who died in Aragón on 25th August 1936, during an attempt to blow up a rebel munition train. Of the 2,000 British citizens who served with the Republican Army, the majority were members of the Communist Party. Although some notable literary figures volunteered (W. H. Auden, George Orwell, John Cornford, Stephen Spender, Christopher Caudwell), most of the men who went to Spain were from the working-class, including a large number of unemployed miners.

To stop volunteers fighting for the Republicans, the British government announced on 9th January, 1937, that it intended to invoke the Foreign Enlistment Act of 1870. It also passed the Merchant Shipping (Carriage of Munitions to Spain) Act.

When Neville Chamberlain replaced Stanley Baldwin as prime minister he continued the policy of nonintervention At the end of 1937 he took the controversial decision to send Sir Robert Hodgson to Burgos to be the British government's link with the Nationalist government.

On 18th January 1938, a letter was sent to The Manchester Guardian that was signed by Duchess of Atholl, John Haldane, George Strauss, Elizabeth Wilkinson, Margery Corbett-Ashby, Eileen Power, Richard Acland, Vernon Bartlett, Richard Stafford Cripps, Josiah Wedgwood, Victor Gollancz, Kingsley Martin, Violet Bonham Carter andR. H. Tawney. They argued: "It has now become clear that the Republicans are facing an overwhelming weight of arms, troops, and munitions accumulated by Italy and Germany in flagrant and open violation of their undertakings under the Non-Intervention Agreement. The embargoes must be lifted and the frontiers opened by Britain and France forthwith."

On 13th March 1938 Leon Blum returned to office in France. When he began to argue for an end to the country's nonintervention policy, Chamberlain and the Foreign Office joined with the right-wing press in France and political figures such as Henri-Philippe Petain and Maurice Gamelin to bring him down. On 10th April 1938, Blum was replaced by Edouard Daladier, a politician who agreed not only with Chamberlain's Spanish strategy but his appeasement policy.

It has been claimed that the British secret service was involved in the military rebellion in Madrid by Segismundo Casado. Soon afterwards, on 27th February 1939, the British government recognized General Francisco Franco as the new ruler of Spain.

Spanish Civil War ends

In Spain, the Republican defenders of Madrid raise the white flag over the city, bringing to an end the bloody three-year Spanish Civil War.

In 1931, Spanish King Alfonso XIII approved elections to decide the government of Spain, and voters overwhelmingly chose to abolish the monarchy in favor of a liberal republic. Alfonso subsequently went into exile, and the Second Republic, initially dominated by middle-class liberals and moderate socialists, was proclaimed. During the first five years of the Republic, organized labor and leftist radicals forced widespread liberal reforms, and the independence-minded Spanish regions of Catalonia and the Basque provinces achieved virtual autonomy.

The landed aristocracy, the church, and a large military clique increasingly employed violence in their opposition to the Second Republic, and in July 1936 General Francisco Franco led a right-wing army revolt in Morocco, which prompted the division of Spain into two key camps: the Nationalists and the Republicans. Franco’s Nationalist forces rapidly overran much of the Republican-controlled areas in central and northern Spain, and Catalonia became a key Republican stronghold.

During 1937, Franco unified the Nationalist forces under the command of the Falange, Spain’s fascist party, while the Republicans fell under the sway of the communists. Germany and Italy aided Franco with an abundance of planes, tanks, and arms, while the Soviet Union aided the Republican side. In addition, small numbers of communists and other radicals from France, the USSR, America, and elsewhere formed the International Brigades to aid the Republican cause. The most significant contribution of these foreign units was the successful defense of Madrid until the end of the war.


July Edit

August Edit

August 1 Under British pressure, France reverses its policy of helping Republican Spain, and together the two nations found the Non-Intervention Committee.
At the pleading of the Marqués de Viana and the exiled ex-king of Spain, Alfonso XIII, Benito Mussolini sends aircraft in support of the rebels. Mussolini wants money for this help the Spanish billionaire Juan March Ordinas pays for the Italian aircraft. Because Franco has no air personnel or pilots, Mussolini sends the aircraft with Italian pilots. After two of the aircraft crash on their way in the French protectorate in Morocco, the world becomes aware of this clear breach of nonintervention. August 2 Troops of the rebellious Spanish Legion, led by Colonel Carlos Asensio Cabanillas and Major Antonio Castejón Espinosa, start their advance from Seville towards Madrid. August 6 Josep Sunyol, a Republican Left of Catalonia deputy and president of FC Barcelona, is caught in an ambush in the Guadarrama and is killed by pro-Franco troops.
General Franco arrives in Seville. August 8 France closes its border with Spain.
While Majorca is still in hands of the nationalists, Ibiza and Formentera are back in Republican hands. August 10 The Nationalists take Mérida on their way to Madrid cutting off the Republicans in Badajoz. The well-known female Republican activist Leiva is executed by the Nationalists. Major Heli Rolando de Tella y Cantos defeats a Republican counterattack on the city. August 14 Nationalist forces under Colonel Juan Yagüe attack and conquer Badajoz, uniting the two parts of the Nationalist territory. The Republican commander, Colonel Ildefonso Puigdendolas, flees to Portugal. Around 4000 people die during and after the attack in Badajoz. In the local bullring, thousands of people are shot down by the Nationalists with machine guns. See Massacre of Badajoz. August 16 Battle of Majorca begins: The Spanish Republican Army lands on the coast of Majorca under heavy bombardment by Italian planes. Captain Alberto Bayo establishes a small base on the coast. August 19 Viznar, Granada: Federico García Lorca, among others, is murdered by members of the falangist Escuadra Negra. Before being killed, they are forced to dig their own graves. Later, the official excuse for the brutal assassination of García Lorca will be that he was homosexual. August 24 Italy and Germany join officially the Non-Intervention agreement. This gives them the possibility to participate in the international blockade of Spain: Italian and German warships are now allowed to stay in Spanish territorial waters and prevent other ships from reaching the Spanish shore.

Picasso’s “Guernica” is returned to Spain

Spanish artist Pablo Picasso’s monumental anti-war mural Guernica is received by Spain after four decades of refugee existence on September 10, 1981. One of Picasso’s most important works, the painting was inspired by the destruction of the Basque town of Guernica by the Nazi air force during the Spanish Civil War. In 1939, Picasso gave the painting to New York’s Museum of Modern Art on an extended loan and decreed that it not be returned to Spain until democratic liberties were restored in the country. Its eventual return to Spain in 1981𠄾ight years after Picasso’s death–was celebrated as a moral endorsement of Spain’s young democracy.

Early in the Spanish civil war, Spain’s leftist Republican government commissioned Picasso to paint a mural for the 1937 Paris International Exposition. Working in Paris, Picasso read in horror of the April 1937 German bombing of Guernica, a Basque town that had sided with the Republicans against General Francisco Franco’s right-wing Nationalist forces. Guernica was well behind the battle lines, but Franco authorized the attack as a means of intimidating his foes in the region. The attack was later admitted to be an experiment by the German Luftwaffe in carpet bombing𠄺ir raids that targeted civilians and civilian infrastructure. More than 1,000 residents of Guernica were killed in the three-hour attack.

Outraged by the brutality of the act, Picasso seized on the bombing as the subject of his mural, which he completed in just three weeks. The enormous painting, which measures 11.5 feet by 25.5 feet, is a savage indictment of man’s inhumanity to man. Painted in desolate tones of black, white, and gray, the painting shows a gored horse, a screaming mother holding a dead child, a bewildered bull, and other nightmarish images that effectively evoke the horror of war.

Guernica was exhibited in the Spanish Pavilion at the Paris International Exposition and in 1939 was sent to New York on a tour for the benefit of the Spanish Refugee Committee. When World War II broke out later that year, Picasso requested that Guernica and a number of his other works be held at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) on extended loan. After the war, most of these works were returned to Europe, but Picasso asked that Guernica and its preliminary studies be kept by MoMA until the “reestablishment of public liberties” in Spain. The painting was occasionally lent to European museums at the request of Picasso.

Francisco Franco ruled over Spain as dictator for the rest of Picasso’s life, and the artist never returned to his native country. In 1967, Franco restored some liberties, and in 1968 his government made an effort to recover Guernica. Picasso refused, clarifying that the painting would not be returned until democracy was reestablished. In 1973, Picasso died in France at the age of 91. Two years later, Franco died and was succeeded as Spanish leader by King Juan Carlos I, who immediately began a transfer to democracy. Spain then called for the return of Guernica, but opposition by Picasso heirs who questioned Spain’s democratic credentials delayed its transfer until 1981. Finally, Picasso’s former lawyer gave his assent to the transfer.

On September 10, 1981, Guernica arrived in Madrid under heavy guard. The painting was to be housed in a new annex of the Prado Museum, only two blocks from the Spanish parliament, which had been the scene of an abortive military coup in February 1981. King Juan Carlos defused the revolt by convincing military commanders to remain loyal to Spain’s democratic constitution.

On October 25—the 100th anniversary of Picasso’s birth—Guernica went on exhibit to the public behind a thick layer of bullet-proof glass. Picasso’s preparatory sketches for the painting, likewise protected behind thick glass, were housed in adjacent rooms. The threat of terrorism against the highly politicized work required high security, and visitors passed through a metal detector to view the paintings. Because the painting had been damaged in its years of travel, curators at the Prado said it was unlikely that Guernica would ever go on tour again.

A number of groups in Spain, particularly Basque nationalists, objected strongly to Guernica‘s permanent exhibition in Madrid. Complaints escalated after the painting was relocated to the new Centro de Arte Reina Sof໚ in Madrid in 1992. Since the 1997 opening of the Guggenheim Bilbao Museo, Basque nationalists have been calling for its transfer there.

What if Republican Spain won the Spanish Civil War?

Theyɽ probably still be neutral during WWII. I can't really see this being violated by Germany or Italy. If anything, the war effort might be expedited if Spain allows the Allies to launch bombers from the Balearic Islands.

After the war, Spain has an economic boom supplying labor and resources Marshall Plan countries. Portugal may not become a dictatorship [EDIT: Portugal was already a dictatorship. Maybe it'll have the revolution before 1974, though], as there is a large, thriving democracy that shares its only land border.

Spain might get more involved in the turmoil in Latin America. If so, you might not see some of the shady practices that Kissinger employed, but this is sort of doubtful. Another thing that may happen is more people emigrating to Spain rather than the US, especially if their economy is still doing well.

Overall. The world is just that much more peaceful. Probably.

Spain probably emerges from the war a heavily Soviet influenced nation rather than a liberal nation with a market economy and individual rights.

Spain still sits out WW2 for the most part, though it might have sent volunteers to fight on the other side in Russia rather than sending Division Azul to fight for Germany.

It's also possible Hitler's paranoia about having a communist back-channel through which the French resistance might be armed post-1940 might result in an invasion. This would totally alter the trajectory of the war, given that an invasion of Russia in 1941 might not be possible with German troops busy in both Spain and Yugoslavia in that year. Given the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, it's not known if the Soviets would tolerate German intervention in Spain at all, and might break the pact themselves to invade Germany.

Additionally, if the war comes to Spain in 1940-41, it becomes a European theater in which British and Free French troops can fight Germany, thus putting Germany on the offensive in Spain but fighting defensively along its eastern border. North Africa is almost certainly changed from this, and might result in American landings in Spain after Pearl Harbor rather than against Vichy France.

Germany would also have some resistance from the Spaniards and some logistical nightmares when it comes to crossing the Pyrenees into Spain, as well as trying to traverse through the rest of Spain's mountains. Keep in mind, Spain - Nationalist or Republican - is going to have one of the most experienced armies due to their civil war. They may be exhausted and have only old Spanish and Russian equipment (as well as captured German and Italian equipment), but they could still hold back the Germans for a while.

Spain could basically be the Greece of Germany - holding them back and delaying their invasion of Russia.

I'm an anarchist communist so this might be biased but.

Say earlier in the war the Stalinists abandon the plan of getting Britain and France to join on the side of the Republic, and therefore decide winning against the fascists is more important than suppressing the anarchist revolution, the world might be very different.

The Catalonian communes were working, and the army was passionate and unwilling to break, except in the face of overwhelming odds. Apparently when they ran out of weapons they fashioned crude sticks of dynamite, and when those ran out they attacked the fascists ➺re fisted' being slaughtered in the process. The anarchist columns had been betrayed by the Stalinists and found themselves with a shortage of weapons, eventually leading to their degradation and assimilation into the Stalinist camps.

If the anarchists had of won the war and become the dominant ideology anarchism would no longer be a side note in history books, and therefore larger amounts of people would see it as a legitimate, and perhaps desirable ideology.

Advancing onwards, an anarchist Spain would be intensely and openly hostile towards Hitler, Nazi Germany and Vichy France. Anarchist Confederations don't operate in the same manner to states, but I would imagine a large volunteer army moving to aid France after the Nazi invasion, creating a new front for the Germans to fight on.

IF the anarchists are able to hold the Germans until the USSR opportunistically begins an invasion on the east- as Stalin almost surely would do, seeing a weakened Germany, then the force moving through France would be an anarchist liberation army. Due to anarchist ideology the French would be free to choose wether to form their own communes and potentially confederate with the Spanish confederation, or return to their previous style of governance and economic policy. I feel that the former is both more likely and more interesting.

After an early defeat of Germany, with the British running around in Africa and the US not even at war yet, or at least not in Europe, the former Third Reich would be split down an anarchist- Stalinist line. After this point there is the potential for a 3- way Cold War- anarchist v capitalist v Stalinist. And/ or anarchist insurrections or revolutions establishing themselves throughout the world.

After this point it becomes difficult to predict, but we could be living in an anarchist society today if they won the Spanish Civil War.

This scenario is probably unrealistic- winning the civil war and WWII would be two challenges- but I though it might be interesting to post.


Beaulac, Willard L. Franco: Silent Ally in World War II. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1986.

Cortada, James. Two Nations Over Time: Spain and the United States, 1775–1977. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1978.

Edwards, Jill. Anglo-American Relations and the Franco Question 1945–1955. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Hayes, Carleton J. H. The United States and Spain: An Interpretation. New York: Sheed and Ward, 1951.

Little, Douglas. Malevolent Neutrality: The United States, Great Britain, and the Origins of the Spanish Civil War. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1985.

Rubottom, Richard R., and J. Carter Murphy. Spain and the United States: Since World War II. New York: Praeger, 1984.

Whitaker, Arthur P. Spain and Defense of the West: Ally and Liability. New York: Harper, 1961. Reprint, Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1980.

———. The Spanish-American Frontier, 1783–1795. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1927. Reprint, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1969.

The post-Civil War Atmosphere in Spain and the Rise of Franco

The Spanish Civil War ended in 1939. After this long period of more than five decades, we are now far removed from that conflict. In addition, the Spanish Civil War was overshadowed, historically, by World War I (1914-1918) and World War II (1939-1945). We might easily forget that the Spanish War had broad implications that extended far beyond Spain itself.

As Sanchez points out: The Spanish Civil War was the dominant European event of the 1930’s prior to the crisis that led to the outbreak of World War II in 1938-39. It polarized the political consciousness of a generation, in some respects more so than did the opening round of the World War itself, for the Spanish contest was held to be a true contest of principles, an international ideological civil war to a much greater degree than anything represented by the standard clash of rival national egotism. While the war had such repercussions internationally, it also had serious repercussions in Spain itself. It was essentially a revolutionary/counter-revolutionary civil war between left and right. On the left were liberal, democratic and socialist forces (including Communists). On the right were the traditional, conservative forces supported by the Army, the bourgeoisie and the Roman Catholic Church. Catholic culture dominated Spain prior to the Civil War. This culture was really more than a religion:

It was a way of life, a framework of reality that was intimately bound up with Spain’s history…an attempt to recapture the role that Catholicism had once played in what was perceived as the Church’s historic mission to the Spanish people.

Actually, Spain had three civil wars between traditionalists and liberals in the 19th century (1821-23, 1833-40, and 1869-76), or between religious traditionalists and progressive Catholics who usually were anticlerical. Here we should define terms. First, the traditionalists were Catholic men and women who were ideologically committed to establishing a clerically dominated state. They solidly supported the clergy. They saw religion as the universal force that held Spain together. Among them were the Carlists, who hoped for the return of the monarchy.

Then there were the liberals, or anticlericalists, persons who were opposed to a clerically dominated state. They wanted a secularist state, where there would be no religious principles in public life. There were three major attacks against the Spanish clergy. They owned about one-fifth of the national territory, and the politicians looked upon these lands as a possible solution to the country’s economic problems. Confiscation began on a small scale in the 18th century the major attack came between 1836 and 1876, when clerical institutions lost most of their land. The effect upon the Church was profound. The clergy lost their rent lands as recompense the government made them salaried civil servants. Their salary did not bring sufficient income to meet their needs. As a result, they turned to the middle class for help. This in turn meant that they compromised their principles. Now, they were endorsing economic liberalism, although traditionally they were against materialistic secularism – which they mistakenly identified with the former. In 1832 and 1834, there were outbursts of anticlerical violence in which priests were killed and churches burned. But the clergy themselves were partially to blame, because some of them engaged in armed warfare in these conflicts.

After the loss of their position in public life as just described, the clergy became defensive, because it seemed that the problems of Spain found their solution at the expense of the clergy. Their defensiveness took the form of an elaboration of the part that the clergy played in the past history of Spain and an effort to revive their past glories. However, the clergy had greater problems to face. The found themselves ever more on the defensive as the secular working-class movements of socialism and anarchism.grew. The clergy were not prepared to react to them. They were in effect not able to face the demands of modern life.

For centuries the clergy were the dispensers of charity and public welfare. This, too, was lost. Also lost was the respect of the urban working classes of men and women, as the clergy became identified with the upper/middle class people. Thus the clergy and the Roman Catholic Church were viewed as bourgeois, rightist and unprogressive, while the forces on the left were considered as liberal, progressive and democratic. In this atmosphere, to be a Catholic and to be in favor of liberal democracy appeared as an impossible combination, if not indeed a contradiction.

As time went on, there were assassinations, violence and martial law. Finally, the constitutional government was overthrown by the army in 1923. General Miguel Primo de Rivera became Spain’s military dictator. Throughout Rivera’s dictatorship, the clergy continued their defensiveness, which they used to condemn the modern world. Few of them understood the problems. Their main thrust was supporting the Catholic culture with pious religiosity. In this, they were not unlike the Catholic Church elsewhere, which tended to condemn the material aspects of modern life.

By the 1930’s the anticlericals wanted to destroy the Catholic culture and replace it with a secular society. One public leader, Manuel Azana, a typical anticlerical and president of the Spanish Republic, said in 1931, that “.forbidding the clergy from teaching the nation’s youth was a matter of public mental health.”

The modern anticlerical fury began in 1936. No other anticlerical persecution in Christian history was so severe. The numbers killed are as follows: 4,184 diocesan priests and seminarians 2,365 religious clergymen (i.e., those belonging to religious orders) and 283 nuns. The total was 6,832. The Republicans killed 72,500 persons. Of this number, nearly 10% were clergy and religious, and the rest were lay persons. The lay persons who were killed belonged to religious associations and attended Church regularly, or were relatives and friends of clerics. In addition to the killing, some 10,000 churches were burned or assaulted, and nuns’ tombs were opened and their petrified mummies were displayed and subjected to ridicule. Most of the killings occurred in the first six months of the uprising. The ruling government armed the labor unions and members of left-wing political organizations just as soon as the war started. The government lost control as arms were passed out to anyone who could then act with impunity. There are numerous accounts by eyewitnesses, both men and women, of how the killings took place. It was rumored, and incorrectly, that the clergy kept supplies of armaments in their churches, and this infuriated the people and contributed to the killings.

Why this intense anticlericalism? Why all the killings? Why the desecration of 10,000 churches? First of all, it must be remembered that anticlericalism had been a Spanish phenomenon that was deeply rooted in its cultural history.

Secondly, the violent anticlericalism of the Civil War was caused by clericalism, or by perceptions of it by various groups of people. Thus, the urban working class looked upon the clergy as their enemies. At the beginning of the Civil War when the government made no effort to restrain the fury, these classes found their opportunity to vent their anticlericalism in violent ways.

Thirdly, it would seem that clericalism itself had failed after centuries of domination, and now that the government stood passively by, some of the people took this opportunity to vent their rage. Besides, it should be noted that some of the assassins and arsonists were criminals set free by the government. They were known as the “uncontrollables.” Other anticlericalists were idealists, i.e., persons who suffered for years in poverty and misery at the hands of persons in the possessing classes. And some clergymen counseled people to accept their status humbly. These have-nots, both men and women, held them responsible in part for their condition.

Finally, many of the clericals supported the Nationalists. This made them enemies of the Republic, members of a military conspiracy, although some clergymen were neutral and some supported the existing government. There were, however, some priests who broadcasted anti-republican propaganda over the radio from Nationalist Territory. This caused persons who were extremist to view “every priest as an ally of the rebels.”

A thorough study of the part played by the clergy indicates that some priests fired from their churches in some isolated cases, largely in self-defense. But the anticlericalists exaggerated such cases, and used the newspapers to print things that were for the most part untrue. In the 1936 elections, it became clear that persons of the working-class political parties wanted not only to destroy the influence of the clergy, but also to replace Christianity with belief in the socialist revolution. They saw the clerics as associated with the men and women of capitalism their real enemy. In addition, there was the Anarchist-Syndicalist trade union that was also bent on the destruction of Christianity. The Church as a social institution was to be destroyed. It must be said that the Socialist party was the chief proponent of the social revolution which led to the Civil War. Their hatred for the Church grew largely out of their criticism of the clergy, whom they saw as catering to the wealthy classes of men and women, and they spread exaggerations about the so-called clerical wealth.

The clergy themselves, with limited and narrow seminary training, emphasized a puritanical view of life and the acceptance of one’s station in life, and they preached a great amount of superstition.”

However, once the war started, the clandestine church was set up so that it operated on three different levels: in the prisons and hospitals, in the embassies of foreign governments, and among the general populace. In many cases, there were priests who distinguished themselves in administering the sacraments.

“And there were those Catholics who supported the Republic. Clergy and laity both, most of them felt that other issues of the war were more important than the religious issue or rather they conceived of the religious issue in broader terms than the clerical-anticlerical struggle. Many of them felt that the social issues of the war and the working-class struggles, placed in the context of the teachings of modern social Catholicism, transcended the attacks upon the clergy and clerical Catholics and, further, that the authoritarian and fascist tendencies of the Nationalist forces were more threatening to the future of the Church than what they considered justified anarchist violence or momentary Communist atheism.”

One of the important issues in Spain during the Civil War was the Basque problem. The three Basque provinces of Guipuzcoa, Vizcaya and Alava had long labored for independence. They supported the Republican government because it provided the legislative machinery for regional autonomy. When their territory was conquered by Franco’s nationalists, fourteen priests along with many laymen were executed. It was a major scandal, because the bishops strongly supported the Nationalists.

In the late summer of 1937, the Spanish bishops published a letter about the war. It was addressed to their fellow bishops throughout the world. It was designed to tell the truth about the war that is, to dispel the false information about the war that had spread throughout the world. Cardinal Pacelli was the first to suggest such a letter. General Franco himself warmly supported it, for he believed it would support the unconditional military victory that he contemplated.

The collected letter of over 9,000 words spoke of the anticlerical fury, dispelled the false accusations against the clergy, supported the Nationalists, spoke of a Communist conspiracy to seize power, told of the assassinations and discussed many other issues bearing on the complexity of the whole situations, especially the fact that the war was being fought for religious reasons.

The letter was not intended for domestic consumption. It is questionable about how much good it accomplished abroad, because by the time it was issued, foreign opinion had hardened. All in all, the bishops hoped to influence foreign opinioin. However, what really happened was that they compromised themselves, for they supported a government which committed wartime reprisals. They did not protest the atrocities of the Nationalists, but remained silent.

One phenomenon associated with the Spanish Civil War was the debate concerning whether or not the conflict was in keeping with the teaching of Catholic theologians on a just war. This debate went on not only in Spain, but in many other parts of the Catholic world. Many of the nuances of this debate are beyond the purposes of this thesis. In addition, the religious climate left much to be desired it was marked by apathy and secular humanism.

Thus, the first half of the twentieth century for Spain was characterized by violence and instability. Communism, atheism, and anticlericalism found their way into the lives of many Spaniards. The dictatorship of Primo de Rivera (1923-1930) occurred early in the century. It was followed by the unsuccessful Second Republic, which was marked by severe persecution of the Church. As a reaction to it, the Falangist party was formed, whose members were really Spanish Fascists. In 1936, the Populist Front took over the government. However, by July of that year, the revolt by the generals began, and the Civil War that ensued lasted until March 29, 1939. Francisco Franco, a Fascist general in charge of the Spanish army in Morocco, was the leader of the revolting generals. He became dictator of Spain in 1939 and remained in that position until his death in 1975. He brought peace and order to a country wearied by war. It was during his regime that the Cursillo was born partly in reaction to the leftist tendencies that had made their inroads into Spain.

The Causes of the Spanish Civil War

What were the causes of the Spanish Civil War? Between 1936 and 1939 over 500,000 people were killed in the Spanish Civil War so this cannot be considered a ‘little’ war that was overshadowed by the problems that were occurring in Europe during these years.

In 1920, Spain was a constitutional monarchy. The king was Alfonso XIII.

However, the government was inefficient and corrupt. In 1921, an army was sent to Spanish Morocco to put down a rebellion. It was massacred but this defeat seemed to emphasise just how corrupt and incompetent Spain’s leadership was.

In 1923, Spain experienced a bloodless coup when Alfonso agreed that General Primo de Rivera should take control of Spain. He ruled as a military dictator until 1930. Rivera’s approach to leadership was fully supported by Alfonso.

However, Rivera did not display the classic features of a dictator. He introduced public works schemes building roads and irrigating the land. Industrial production increased by three times from 1923 to1930. Rivera also ended the rebellion in Morocco in 1925.

However, the Great Depression of the 1930’s hit Spain hard. Unemployment rose and Rivera did not have the ability to sort out Spain’s financial mess. The army withdrew its support and Rivera had to resign.

In April 1931, elections were held in Spain which resulted in republicans winning all the major cities in Spain. Alfonso decided to abdicate as he feared that if he stayed on, Spain would plummet into turmoil. Those victorious at the election then declared Spain a republic and monarchy was abolished.

The new republic immediately faced a number of major problems:

Two important regions in Spain wanted independence – Catalonia and the Basque region. Had their requests been successful, it would have lead to the break-up of Spain.
The Roman Catholic Church was hostile to the republic and the republic was hostile to the highly influential Roman Catholic Church.
The government believed that the army had too much say in politics and determined to reduce its influence.
Spain was primarily an agricultural nation and the 1930’s Depression had hit prices for crops. Prime exports such as olive oil and wine fell in value and previously used agricultural land fell into disuse.
The little industry that Spain had was also hit by the Depression. Iron and steel were especially hit as no-one had the money to pay for the products. Iron production fell by 33% and steel by 50%.
Unemployment in both agriculture and industry rose and those in work had to put up with a cut in wages as the economy struggled to survive the Depression.
The Republic faced losing the support of those whose support it desperately needed – the working class.

Those who governed Spain had differing views on what to do. The wishes of the left alarmed those on the right and vice versa. Political infighting was in danger of pushing Spain into social revolution.

The middle ground in Spain’s parliament – the socialists and middle-class radicals – did try to resolve outstanding problems.

Catalonia did receive some degree of self-government.
The historic privileges of the Roman Catholic Church were attacked. Priests were no longer paid by the state. Their salaries now came out of the Roman Catholic Church’s purse. The government and the Roman Catholic Church were made two separate entities. Jesuits – seen as hard line Roman Catholics – were expelled from Spain – ironically the country that had founded the movement. Religious education in schools was stopped.
Many army officers were made to retire early
The huge estates in Spain were nationalised i.e. taken over by the government which would control what was done on them etc.
The wages of those who worked in industry were increased but they were to be paid by the owners of those industries not by the government.

The government tried to attack those it deemed as having too many privileges in society. But by doing this it angered all those sectors in society that had the potential to fight back – the military, industrialists, land owners and the Roman Catholic Church. These four (potentially very powerful bodies) were unwilling to support the republican government in Madrid. They were also aware that there were countries in Europe that would be willing to give support to their plight as many nations in Europe were scared of communism and Stalin’s Russia. Fascist Italy under Mussolini would be an obvious ally as would Germany once Hitler had got power in January 1933.

In January 1932, a number of army officers tried to overthrow the government lead by Manuel Azana, the prime minister. The attempt was unsuccessful as the army, for now, was loyal to the government – after all, it had won the elections fairly and, therefore, had legitimacy. However, a new political party was formed called the Ceda. This was a right wing party dedicated to protecting the authority of the Roman Catholic Church and landlords.

The government of Azana, having lost support from the right, also lost support from the left. Two powerful left wing political parties, the anarchists and syndicalists (powerful trade union groups), felt that Azana’s government was too middle of the road. Both wanted a more communistic state and the overthrow of capitalism. Above all, Azana was despised for forming a political union with the middle ground in Spain’s political life. He was deemed to have betrayed the working class. The extreme left organised strikes and riots in an effort to destabilise the government of Azana.

Matters came to a head when in January 1933, 25 people were killed by government troops who were attempting to catch some anarchists near Cadiz. This lost the government a great deal of support among the working class and the socialists withdrew their support from the government. Azana resigned as prime minister and elections were called for November 1933.

In this election, the right wing won a majority of support and the largest party in the parliament (known as the Cortes), was the Ceda lead by Gil Robles.

The new right wing government immediately over-turned all of the changes brought in by the Azana government. This angered many but especially the Catalans who had their privileges withdrawn. This was a serious error of judgement as the Catalans and Basques had supported the government in the elections. The way ahead for Robles became clear to many – an attack on the left wing parties of Spain.

It forced the many parties of the left to come together to form the Popular Front. They organised strikes, riots and took part in acts of violence such as derailing main line trains. In 1934 there was a general strike. Coal miners in the Asturias went on strike but were ruthlessly put down by the army lead by General Franco. Spain appeared to be heading for all out chaos. In a last minute attempt to avoid serious trouble, a general election was called for February 1936. In this election, the Popular Front won and Azana, once again became prime minister.

However, the government of the Popular Front was a farce after the socialists withdrew their support from it more and more public disturbances occurred and the government had clearly lost control of Spain. In July 1936, a leading right wing politician, Sotelo, was murdered and the right wing politicians and their supporters believed that they were now in serious danger. They wanted to put their faith in a military dictatorship.

The military had, in fact, already made preparations for a takeover of Spain. General Franco assumed control of the military. He took control of Spanish Morocco after overthrowing the civilian government there. His next target was to invade mainland Spain, establish a military government there and rid the country of all those involved in left wing politics. The left would have to fight for survival. The civil war started in July 1936.

Watch the video: Ισπανία: Με την ανοχή των Σοσιαλιστών ορκίστηκε πρωθυπουργός ο Ραχόι - world (October 2022).

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