Civil War

Civil War
   The Spanish Civil War was brought about by the decision of right-wing groupings, especially in the armed forces, to reverse what they regarded as the slide into anarchy caused by the policies of the Second Republic, and the increasing militancy of radical working-class organizations. After the victory of the Popular Front in the elections of February 1936, a group of senior officers, coordinated by General Emilio Mola, the garrison commander in Pamplona, began to plan a military uprising, intending that it should be a swift coup which would seize control within a short timespan. The plan was that the military commanders in the provincial capitals would declare a state of siege, and join Mola as he advanced south from Pamplona, and Franco who would be moving north with units from Spanish Morocco. The two armies would meet west of Madrid and then turn towards the capital, which they expected to fall quickly. In the event, however, the insurgents had to fight a long and bitter campaign lasting nearly three years, from July 1936 to March 1939. What prolonged the war was the loyalty to the legitimate government of sizeable sectors of the armed forces, plus the determined resistance of the trade union militias, who made up in enthusiasm what they lacked in training and discipline. The insurgents, however, had at their disposal, in addition to those troops who joined them on the mainland, the Army of Africa, made up of the highly-experienced professional soldiers of the Foreign Legion, plus the Moorish volunteer units, who together constituted a formidable fighting force.
   Under international law, the government of the Republic, as the legal authority, was entitled to purchase military supplies from other countries, but in practice this proved difficult to implement because of the complex political situation in Europe. The European democracies were fearful of provoking the Axis powers, Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, into intervening decisively in support of Franco. Within the first month of the war, a Non-intervention Pact was agreed by some twenty-seven countries, though it was widely flouted. Two of the signatories, Germany and Italy, provided air support to Franco within days of the rising, which proved crucial in enabling him to ferry the Army of Africa across the Straits of Gibraltar.
   In this situation, the Republic turned for assistance to the Soviet Union, which initially provided food and raw materials, and sent to Spain representatives of the Comintern, the organization which in various European countries and the US helped to recruit the International Brigades, providing the Republic with a total of 60,000 men between the beginning of the conflict and October 1938, when they were withdrawn. Military hardware and munitions began to arrive in October 1936, but the volume of Soviet aid was determined by the complexities of foreign policy. Since Stalin was following a strategy of supporting Popular Front governments, it was not in his interest that the Republic should be defeated. Neither, however, were Soviet interests served by the emergence of a victorious revolutionary regime in Spain, which would destabilize western Europe and possibly provoke Germany and Italy to attack the Soviet Union.
   Military intervention by the Axis powers had dramatic and visible results when the German Condor Legion (a volunteer airforce unit) bombed the Basque town of Guernica on 26 April 1937, destroying about 70 percent of the houses. Soviet intervention, by contrast, had effects which were both political and military within the Republican zone, especially in Catalonia. The workers" militias, particularly the anarchist CNT-FAI and the Trotskyist POUM, saw their task as not only defending the Republic but bringing about a social revolution. By contrast, communists and socialists gave priority to winning the war, and were prepared to postpone political objectives in the interests of forging a disciplined and effective fighting force. Tension between these two groupings produced street-fighting in Barcelona in May 1937, with the communists decisively gaining the upper hand, an advantage which they exploited ruthlessly in a campaign of intimidation, assassination and torture against former rivals in the Republican camp. Victory in this conflict enabled the communists to reorganize the regular army, and also enhanced their political influence within the government.
   In addition to bitterly-fought battles in the field, the Civil War was also characterized by atrocities and reprisals, though these arguably had a different character and source in each zone. In the early months, many deaths in the Republican zone can be attributed to an upsurge of anger against those deemed to be representatives of oppressive institutions: landowners executed by their tenants and workers; priests and members of religious orders (to an estimated total of some 6,800) shot by the militias, or victims of popular violence. To these must be added the anarchist and POUM members killed by the communists during and after the summer of 1937. In the areas occupied by the insurgents, mass executions reflected Franco's policy of systematically eliminating possible sources of opposition, so as to secure his rearguard, and determine the future political character of Spain by imposing unity through terror. Members of the Popular Front parties caught in the Nationalist zone, trade unionists, captured members of the Republican police and army, were shown little or no quarter: in Cordoba province alone, total casualties attributed to this policy are estimated at 32,000. After the Francoist victory, these executions continued on a large scale into the early to mid-1940s. In addition, the regime itself admitted to 250,000 political prisoners, though the real figure was probably higher. All the democratic institutions associated with the Republic were systematically dismantled, and there was no attempt to achieve reconciliation between former adversaries: the propaganda of the regime systematically presented supporters of the Republic as the enemies of Spain. Post-war repression led to the exile of some of the most gifted professionals, academics, writers and artists, which impoverished Spanish intellectual and cultural life.
   See also: Franco Bahamonde, Francisco; Francoist culture; history
   Further reading
   - Blinkhorn, M. (1988) Democracy and Civil War in Spain, 1931-1939, London: Routledge (an excellent short introduction to the main issues and the course of the war).
   - Carr, R. (1993) The Spanish Tragedy: The Civil War in Perspective, London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson (a comprehensive study of the complexities of the political context).
   - Preston, P. (1986) The Spanish Civil War, 1936-39, London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson (a very accessible, concise account, usefully illustrated with photographs and maps).
   - Thomas, H. (1977) The Spanish Civil War, Harmondsworth: Penguin in Association with Hamish Hamilton (the third edition of this classic study, substantially revised and enlarged; the most reliable and comprehensive treatment available).

Encyclopedia of contemporary Spanish culture. 2013.

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