and welcome to the history page. Our instalment this week opens with the narrow
triumph of Azañas reformist administration over the previous conservative
regime. The five months that elapsed between the leftist electoral victory in
February 1936 and the outbreak of civil war in July 1936 were fraught with political
treachery and social unrest. Indeed, with the aid of hindsight we can see that
the acrimony of this period was nothing if not the prelude to war. Two opposing
currents of thought and action - one conservative and reactionary, the other progressive
and liberal - brewed menacingly over the Spanish horizon. The angry voices of
parliamentary discussion can be likened to the rumbling of thunder, while the
escalating acts of public violence were the bolts of lightening that in turn set
off new rebounds of thunder. It was only a matter of time before the storm would
unleash its deluge of hatred and death over the face of Spain. Let us now examine
the course taken by each of the countrys opposing camps during these final
The Popular Front
government, launched as the Popular Front (a coalition of republicans, socialists,
Catalan leftists, communists and Basque nationalists - listed in order of the
number of seats held by each faction), reunited after the internal divisions of
1933 under a programme of amnesty for the October revolutionaries. Their first
objective was to free the thousands of incarcerated workers, make reparations
to the victims, and ensure that leftist sympathizers were restored to their jobs,
many having been blacklisted after the uprising. Second on their agenda was the
renewal of the legislation that had been instituted during the Reformist Biennium,
especially the laws regarding education, agriculture and federal autonomy.
third course of action was the demotion of suspicious rightist generals who, during
the Black Biennium, had risen vertiginously to positions of power within the government.
Accordingly, generals Franco, Mola and Goded, the prime movers of the imminent
military coup, were transferred to Tenerife, Pamplona and Majorca respectively.
Their removal from Madrid and the hub of political life was certainly wise, but,
as we shall see, insufficient to stop the clandestine networking that was already
in progress among the three generals and a host of anti-republican supporters.
Posterior analyses of the causes of war invariably point out the myopia of the
Popular Front in estimating the real threat presented by these generals to the
continuance of democracy.
The National Front
opposition launched their electoral platform under the hastily patch-worked National
Front, an ad hoc coalition of the Spanish right wing (i.e. CEDA, monarchists,
landowners, etc.), with the exception of the Falangist Party, which remained unaffiliated
due to the fact that there were not enough parliamentary seats to go around. Campaigning
under a separate platform, the Falangists suffered a terrible defeat at the urns
and, in the end, won no seats in parliament. José Antonio then opted for
what he termed the dialectic of fists and pistols, in other words,
One point that stands to be clarified
regarding the 1936 elections is that the results were extremely close, the margin
of difference being no more than 200,000 votes in favour of the Popular Front.
Thus, despite the fact that Azañas cabinet ruled parliament, public
sentiment was quite evenly divided between left and right, a scenario that further
served to fuel the wheels of war.
Public Disorder on
Both Sides of the Fence
As regards the political line
of the National Front, its opposition to Azañas reforms was as adamant
as ever. To this habitual resistance they now added the tactic of subversion:
certain agents (José Antonios blue shirts, for example)
provoked public disorder while the rest of the right wing exaggerated and sensationalized
these incidents in an attempt to discredit the government and so justify the planned
repression. The fatal flaw of the left wing was its impetuous reaction to these
taunts and its impatience in effecting social change.
example of this impatience occurred in the rural hinterland of Extremadura where,
as in the rest of Spain, the issue of land rights was a major source of contention.
On learning of the leftist victory, the ploughmen of Extremadura reoccupied the
lands that, under the Reformist Biennium, had been granted them. The only problem
was that, in their haste, they did not wait for the official ratification of the
laws that would soon legitimize this occupation. Predictably, the affected landowners
retaliated by calling in the guardia civil, giving rise to numerous bloody clashes
and the loss of life on both sides.
The urban panorama
was also afflicted by frequent strikes and bombings as well as the stalking militias
of blue-shirts. In effect, the social climate was virtually identical to the period
preceding Primo de Riveras seizure of power, the only difference being that
Primo de Riveras takeover was non-violent, while Francos takeover,
intended to be a quick coup, degenerated into three years of warfare.
Spanish Civil War
the face of growing chaos and turmoil, the new government did its best to carry
on. One particular debate held on 1st July remains as the final parliamentary
showdown between right and left. The Minister of Agriculture presented a bill
advocating the return of communal properties to certain towns whose commons had
been expropriated during the previous century. His proposal was hotly challenged
by the monarchist, Calvo Sotelo, who, since Gil Robles fall from grace was
now hailed as the national leader of the right wing:
the liberal-democratic State cannot interfere in this type of problem, he
argued, maintaining that what Spain needed was an authoritarian government to
protect the interests of the middle classes, who are not willing to be proletarianized
the way that the inhabitants of Russia are.
this, the Minister of Agriculture responded:
protectionism by the State is based on the concept that there have been social
classes who, due to their economic situation, have not had the means to defend
themselves and we must lend them these means. We are not aiming for a Marxist
economy, we are not aiming for a Marxist regime; we are aiming, simply, for a
situation of justice that so far has not come about. Whose fault is that?
13th July, less than two weeks after this impassioned exchange, Lieutenant Castillo,
an ardent and vocal socialist, was assassinated by rightwing activists. That very
night, a group of Castillos colleagues avenged his death by killing Calvo
Sotelo. The killing of such an exalted personage was indeed a grave transgression,
but graver still was the fact that, unbeknownst to the public, Calvo Sotelo had
recently pledged his allegiance to Francos conspiracy. It is often said
that his death was the spark that started the war when, in fact, his death merely
precipitated the execution of a military coup already in the final stages of planning.
Join us next week
for the final instalment of our overview when we will retrace the steps of Franco
and his generals in the preparation of their conspiracy. Following that, our area
of scrutiny will shift back to Ibiza and the specific effects of the civil war
on the island. Until then.