The Spanish Civil War was a major conflict in Spain that started after an attempted coup d'état committed by parts of the army against the government of the Second Spanish Republic. The Civil War devastated Spain from 17 July 1936 to 1 April 1939, ending with the victory of the rebels and the founding of a dictatorship led by the Fascist General Francisco Franco and the defeat of the supporters of the Republic. Republicans (republicanos), gained the support of the Soviet Union and Mexico, while the followers of the rebellion, nacionales (Nationalists), received the support of the major EuropeanAxis powers, namely Italy, Germany, as well as neighbouring Portugal.
The war increased tensions in the lead-up to World War II and was largely seen as a possible war by proxy between the Communist Soviet Union and the Fascist Axis of Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany. In particular, tanks and bombing of cities from the air were features of the later war in Europe. The advent of the mass media allowed an unprecedented level of attention (Ernest Hemingway, Martha Gellhorn, George Orwell and Robert Capa all covered it) and so the war became notable for the passion and political division it inspired, and for atrocities committed on both sides of the conflict. Like other Civil Wars, the Spanish Civil War often pitched family members and trusted neighbours and friends against each other. Apart from the combatants, many civilians were killed for their political or religious views by both sides, and after the war ended in 1939, Republicans were at times persecuted by the victorious Nationalists.
Prelude to the war
Foreshadowing the conflict: Salvador Dalí's Soft Construction with Boiled Beans (Premonition of Civil War)
Spain had undergone several civil wars and revolts, carried out by both the reformists and the conservatives, who tried to displace each other from power. A liberal tradition that first ascended to power with the Spanish Constitution of 1812 sought to abolish the absolutist monarchy of the old regime and to establish a liberal state. The most traditionalist sectors of the political sphere systematically tried to avert these reforms and to sustain the monarchy. The Carlists—supporters of Infante Carlos and his descendants—rallied to the cry of "God, Country and King" and fought for the cause of Spanish tradition (absolutism and Catholicism) against the liberalism and later the republicanism of the Spanish governments of the day. The Carlists, at times (including the Carlist Wars), allied with nationalists (not to be confused with the nationalists of the Civil War) attempting to restore the historic liberties (and broad regional autonomy) granted by the fueros of the Basque Country and Catalonia. Further, from the mid-19th century onwards, the liberals were outflanked on their left by socialists of various types and especially by anarchists, who were far stronger and more numerous in Spain than anywhere else in Europe aside from (possibly) Russia.
Spain experienced a number of different systems of rule in the period between the Napoleonic wars of the early 19th century and the outbreak of the Civil War. During most of the 19th century, Spain was a constitutional monarchy, but under attack from these various directions. The First Spanish Republic, founded in 1873, was shortlived. A monarchy under Alfonso XIII lasted from 1887 to 1931, but from 1923 was held in place by the military dictatorship of Miguel Primo de Rivera. Following Primo de Rivera's overthrow in 1930, the monarchy was unable to maintain power and the Second Republic was declared in 1931. This Republic soon came to be led by a coalition of the left and center. A number of controversial reforms were passed, such as the Agrarian Law of 1932, distributing land among poor peasants. Millions of Spaniards had been living in more or less absolute poverty under the firm control of the aristocratic landowners in a quasi-feudal system. These reforms, along with anticlericalist acts, as well as military cut-backs and reforms, created strong opposition.
Constitution of 1931
Main article: Spanish Constitution of 1931
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A new constitution was adopted on 9 December 1931. The document generally accorded thorough civil liberties and representation, the notable exclusion being the rights of Catholics, a flaw which prevented the forming of an expansive democratic majority. The document provided for universal suffrage and proclaimed a purported complete separation of Church and State, but in actuality it provided for significant governmental interference in church matters, including the prohibition of teaching by religious even in private schools, confiscation of and prohibitions on ownership of church property, and the banning of the Society of Jesus. The revolution of 1931 essentially established an anticlerical government.
Not only advocates of establishment of religion but also advocates of church/state separation saw the constitution as hostile; one such advocate of separation, Jose Ortega y Gasset, stated "the article in which the Constitution legislates the actions of the Church seems highly improper to me." On June 3, 1933, Pope Pius XI condemned the Spanish Government's deprivation of the civil liberties on which the Republic was supposedly based in the encyclicalDilectissima Nobis (On Oppression Of The Church Of Spain ), noting in particular the expropriation of Church property and schools and the persecution of religious communities and orders.
Since the far left considered moderation of the anticlericalist aspects of the constitution as totally unacceptable, commentators have argued that "the Republic as a democratic constitutional regime was doomed from the outset". Commentators have posited that such a "hostile" approach to the issues of church and state were a substantial cause of the breakdown of democracy and the onset of civil war.
1933 election and aftermath
Leading up to the Civil War, the state of the political establishment had been brutal and violent for some time. In the 1933 elections to the Cortes Generales, the Spanish Confederation of the Autonomous Right (Confederación Española de Derechas Autónomas or CEDA) won a plurality of seats. It was however not enough to form a majority. Despite the results, then President Niceto Alcalá-Zamora declined to invite the leader of the CEDA to form a government and instead invited the Radical Republican Party and its leader Alejandro Lerroux to do so. CEDA supported the Lerroux government; it later demanded and, on 1 October 1934, received three ministerial positions. Hostility between both the left and the right increased after the formation of the Government. Spain experienced general strikes and street conflicts. Noted among the strikes was the miners' revolt in northern Spain and riots in Madrid. Nearly all rebellions were crushed by the Government and political arrests followed.
Lerroux's alliance with the right, his harsh suppression of the revolt in 1934, and the Stra-Perlo scandal combined to leave him and his party with little support going into the 1936 election. (Lerroux himself lost his seat in parliament.)
1936 Popular Front victory and aftermath
In the 1936 Elections a new coalition of Socialists (Socialist Workers Party of Spain, PSOE), liberals (Republican Left and the Republican Union Party), Communists, and various regional nationalist groups won the extremely tight election. The results gave 34 percent of the popular vote to the Popular Front and 33 percent to the incumbent government of the CEDA. This result, when coupled with the Socialists' refusal to participate in the new government, led to a general fear of revolution. This was made only more apparent when Largo Caballero, hailed as "the Spanish Lenin" by Pravda, announced that the country was on the cusp of revolution. However these statements were meant only to remove any moderates from his coalition. Moderate Socialist Indalecio Prieto condemned the rhetoric and marches as provocative.
Aims of the Popular Front
From the Comintern's point of view the increasingly powerful, if fragmented, left and the weak right were an optimum situation. Their goal was to use a veil of legitimate democratic institutions to outlaw the right and to convert the state into the Soviet vision of a "people's republic" with total leftist domination, a goal which was repeatedly voiced not only in Comintern instructions but also in the public statements of the PCE (Communist Party of Spain).
Azaña becomes president
Without the Socialists, Prime Minister Manuel Azaña, a liberal who favored gradual reform while respecting the democratic process, led a minority government. In April, parliament replaced President Niceto Alcalá-Zamora, a moderate who had alienated virtually all the parties, with Azaña. The removal of Zamora was made on specious grounds and in violation of the constitution. Although the right also voted for Zamora's removal, this was a watershed event which inspired many conservatives to give up on parliamentary politics. Azaña was the object of intense hatred by Spanish rightists, who remembered how he had pushed a reform agenda through a recalcitrant parliament in 1931–33. Joaquín Arrarás, a friend of Francisco Franco, called him "a repulsive caterpillar of red Spain." The Spanish generals particularly disliked Azaña because he had cut the army's budget and closed the military academy while war minister (1931). CEDA turned its campaign chest over to army plotter Emilio Mola. Monarchist José Calvo Sotelo replaced CEDA's Gil Robles as the right's leading spokesman in parliament.
Rising tensions and political violence
This was a period of rising tensions. Radicals became more aggressive, while conservatives turned to paramilitary and vigilante actions. According to official sources, 330 people were assassinated and 1,511 were wounded in politically-related violence; records show 213 failed assassination attempts, 113 general strikes, and the destruction (typically by arson) of 160 religious buildings.
Deaths of Castillo and Calvo Sotelo
On 12 July 1936, in Madrid, a far right group murdered Lieutenant José Castillo of the Assault Guards, a special police corps created to deal with urban violence, and a Socialist. The next day, leftist gunman Luis Cuenca killed José Calvo Sotelo, a leader of the conservative opposition in the Cortes (Spanish parliament), in revenge. Cuenca was operating in a commando unit of the Assault Guard led by Captain Fernando Condés Romero. Condés was close to the Socialist leader Indalecio Prieto, but there is no indication that Prieto was complicit in Cuenca's assassination of Calvo Sotelo. However, the murder of such a prominent member of parliament, with involvement of the police, aroused suspicions and strong reactions amongst the Center and the Right. Calvo Sotelo was the leading Spanish monarchist. He protested against what he viewed as escalating anti-religious terror, expropriations, and hasty agricultural reforms, which he considered Bolshevist and anarchist. He instead advocated the creation of a corporative state and declared that if such a state was fascist, he was also a fascist.
He also declared that Spanish soldiers would be mad to not rise for Spain against Anarchy. In turn, the leader of the communists, Dolores Ibarruri, known as La Pasionaria, allegedly vowed that Calvo Sotelo's speech would be his last speech in the Cortes. Although the Nationalist generals were already at advanced stages of planning an uprising, the event is seen by some as a catalyst for what followed.