Spain History - 2nd Republic - (1931 - 1939)

For the next five years the power swayed between the political views of the right and left and more often as not blood was shed. The first two years saw radical social changes under the control of the left of centre parties, then two years influenced by the right of centre parties, and finally a period of approximately six months of the Popular Front. Due to the pressures from the right and left parties, the middle class Spaniards democratic centre who were never allowed to gain sufficient control to introduce the stability the country needed.

The initial government was composed of left-Republicans, right-Republicans, Socialists and the Regionalists. To lead this mixture a lawyer by the name of Niceto Alcalá Zamora was elected as the Prime Minister. Within a period of just three months the royal flag was replaced, a new national anthem composed, and important streets and squares renamed. Perhaps the Carlist Pretender, Don Jaime, was the first to bring the honeymoon period to an end by calling his supporters to arms. There followed an orgy of church burning and general looting throughout the country with the anarchists taking an active part.

The June elections in 1931 showed that the Socialists were the most voted party out of a maze of a total of 27 elected parties. On July the 14th a collection of 123 lawyers, 41 doctors, 65 professors and 24 workmen opened their first democratically elected Republican Parliament. The Socialist leader was Largo Caballera and his nearest rivals being Lerroux of the Radical Party and Manuel Azaña of the Republican Action Party. Their first important matter to attend to was to prepare a new Constitution which immediately created rifts between the different parties. The Article 26 of this Constitution stated that Spain was no longer officially Catholic and it would be forbidden to teach religion in any form in schools. New additions to this law were later introduced such as forbidding religious processions and the ringing of church bells. The Prime Minister at first resigned in disgust only to return in December when the Constitution had been accepted by Parliament, taking up the post of President and naming Azaña as the new Prime Minister.

The various articles of the new Constitution successfully split the country in two with one side finding the new rules to be too new, and the other half finding them not new enough. There were pockets of support form various segments of the public such as the poor peasants of Andalucía who were told that property was to be subject to expropriation for social utility. In the 1930s about one per cent of the owners controlled 42 per cent of the land in Andalucía. In a period of two years 12,000 families received land but the negative effect was that overall cultivated land dropped by 750,000 acres.

Catalonia enjoyed under the new government almost a State of Independence and was controlled by an elected council named Generalitat with its own president, flag, parliament and tax system. The Basques were ready and waiting for a similar form of independence. A right-wing revolt was planned in the summer of 1932 but failed before taking effect. During this period there were outburst of violence in most parts of the country and general effects of the Great Depression were now being felt in the industrial towns and by the end of 1933 unemployment reached a level of 600.000. The capitalist and financiers also found the new style of Spain was not to their liking as it was greatly affecting their income.

In 1933 a new election with women for the first time taking part brought a swing in favour of the right wing parties. The leading party was CEDA led by José Maria Gil Robles that consisted of catholic fractions, monarchists and Carlists. The left wing Republicans were furious and President Alcalá appointed Lerroux of the Radicals as the new Prime Minister as a counter measure. Instability was back in force and effective government was virtually non-existent. New influences appeared on the scene with the Spanish Communists growing for the first time in numbers form their original 1,000 members. Another and equally important party was the appearance of the Falange which was run on the popular Fascist principles that were then sweeping across Europe. The leader José Antonio was the son of the previous dictator Primo de Rivera.

By summer of 1934 there were the Communists and the Falangists were almost involved in a street war for power. Both the Cátalans and the Asturias were strongly resentful of the CEDA (Spanish Confederation of the Autonomous Right-Wing), participating in the government. The UGT called for a General Strike and then declared that Catalonia was an independent state within a Spanish Federal Republic. Somehow this new uprising was crushed with the exception of the Asturias where communism was at its strongest. One of the leaders was to become internationally know as La Pasionaria (Dolores Ibarruri) for her heroism and her very passionate speeches. Upon receiving reports of priests having being murdered and similar atrocities the government sent the Spanish Foreign Legion to the Asturias to deal brutally with the problem. Ironically, in the Legion were Moroccan Moors who were now to crush the one region never conquered in history by the Moors. They were led by General Millan Astay and under his command was a young man named Francisco Franco. When the Legion had finished establishing control they left behind over 2,000 dead and thousands more either in jail or injured.

By this time there were over 30,000 opponents to the government in jail including two opposition leaders, Azaña and Largo Caballero. Adding potential danger to the situation was a secret society formed in 1933 by junior army officers and named the UME. In 1935 the now General Francisco Franco was appointed as the Army Chief-of-Staff, and Spain waited to see what the army would do, but Franco adopted his soon to become familiar practice of waiting in the background before making any move. An election in February of 1936 decided the strategy of both sides, the left Popular Front of mainly Communists representing generally the workers and the anarchists and idealists, and the right as the National Front representing the conservatives, nationalists, Fascists, Catholics and many of the northern rural population. The centre parties were quickly losing their appeal with the exception of the ever independent Basques nationalists. There was some 70 per cent turnout and the coalition of the Popular Front won the majority.

The right reacted with shock and General Franco offered the support of the army to the interim Prime Minister should he decide not to hand over his position to the incomers. However this offer was apparently rejected and the last elected government for the next 40 years took their seats in the Parliament. Azaña took over the reins of power and the Generals such as Franco were posted to remote garrisons and political prisoners were released. The leader of the Falange Party was arrested in March and sent to a jail in Alicante. Daily and violent uprisings became the headlines and by mid-June Gil Robles publicly charged parliament that they were seriously failing in their duty to Spain. He questionably stated that there have been 269 political murders, 1,287 injured, 341 strikes, and 400 churches destroyed or damaged. On 11th of July, Calvo Sotelo also verbally attacked the failures of the new government, and a few days later he was assassinated by an off-duty policemen for his troubles. On Friday July the 14th in 1936, the army garrison in Melilla in North Africa revolted and this was followed the next day by other garrisons in Spain - the army had been waiting and planning for some time for the right moment! Thus began the horrific Spanish Civil War which was to cost so many Spanish people their lives.


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