The Spanish Civil War 1936-1939 The background of the Spanish Civil War is a complex and fascinating set of historical, cultural, political, and economic realities which reached a climax during a prolonged, armed conflict between opposing sides of the Spanish population which wrested for superiority adn therefore, control over the deeply divided country and its future. Although the outbreak of the war caught many by surprise, the war was actually a long time in coming: “THE fissures that gave rise to the Spanish Civil War in July, 1936, were not of sudden growth. They had been steadily developing over the course of years, albeit at an increasing tempo since the fall of the Monarchy and the proclamation of the Republic in 1931” (Bolloten 18). Ironically, the plight of the agrarian-based classes in Spain, supposed benefiters of the establishment of the Republic comprised one of the major stumbling points for the Republic’s attempts to redefine Spain’s social castes and create a redistribution of wealth which would benefit the lower levels of Spanish society. Instead, the average Spanish farmer “viewed with dismay the swift and widespread development of collectivized agriculture[…
] the commencement of a new era” (Bolloten 5) and this new era embodied not only a radical shift in economics and social castes, but also of religious and cultural identities which, while viewed by the Republics as fixtures of injustice were viewed by mass numbers of the Spanish people as sacred. Along with the abolishment of existing economic castes and the abolishment of religious dogma, the Republic aimed to reform what it regarded as “the privileged position of the military within civilian society” (Preston 7) and this view, in turn, led to the angering and alienation of key military officer and personnel, many of whom would lead the initial attempted coup in 1936. Although the original inspiration for the Republic, begun in the early 1930’s, was “to reform Spain’s antiquated social structure” (Preston 1) and to institute reforms which would help workers, the actual result of the swift and sweeping reforms which were laid out by “the Republic’s first legislature, between 1931 and 1933” (Preston 1) proved to be too much too fast for the actual population of Spain and its cultural and economic traditions to absorb. The fact that a world-wide economic depression had already taken hold contributed, also, to the weakening of the Republic’s reform efforts and an exacerbation of the tensions between the liberal “left” and the conservative “right” in Spain, tensions which would eventually explode into civil war. For the Spanish Right, comprised mainly of Spain’s “ownership” class, the reforms of the Republic posed a direct threat of annihilation to their way of life and to the political and economic philosophies they regarded as truth. The Spanish upper-classes, “Unable to sustain improved labour conditions by higher profits” (Preston 1) resorted to organizing “in order to block change” (Preston 1) and the methods by which they secured populist support for their elitist agenda circulated very much around the “toppled” cultural identities such as the church, which the Republic had attempted to place in a position of impotence. Instead, the oligarchies of the rich in Spain were able to “mobilise mass support because the laicising element of the Republic’s project of modernisation permitted them to present the regime as anti-religious” (Preston 1) while simultaneously, the ruling class in Spain as able to secure the support of the military because the Republic approved ” reform of the military promotion system and the concession of autonomy to the regions, which permitted the Right to present the Republic as unpatriotic and ready to divide Spain in the interests of foreign enemies” (Preston 1).
Although there was no outright vision or idea of armed conflict present during the beginning stages of the anti-Republic movement, the goal of this group was to stage an effective coup which would dislodge the Republicans from power. Plans for creating a coup that would be handled with great violence but which would brig a swift end to the conflict were made, however, “the coup failed and the rebel officers were left in a difficult position” (De Meneses 38) and although, theoretically, the Spanish Republic “should, in theory, find it easier to obtain whatever raw materials, weapons or ammunition might be needed in order to win the war” (De Meneses 38) the war against the Republic was pursued and eventual victory won by the conservative factions of Spain, leading to the downfall of the Republic. In military terms, the Republic, which was the internationally legitimate government of Spain, failed to win a single, offensive battle throughout the course of the war. Each of the Republic’s notable victories during the Spanish Civil War “were defensive, the most notable being the Battle of Madrid late in 1936” (De Meneses 38) and this, to a very large degree, rested upon the fact that the elite of the military had joined in the anti-Republican efforts.
The fascists in Spain who won the Spanish Civil War were also aided by other countries, most notably, Nazi Germany, whose air0force the Luftwaffe aided Franco’s troops and helped to ensure that Spain would fall to the fascist rulers. In conclusion, the conduct of Spanish Civil War, like the historical background which preceded its outbreak, is complex and very profound from an historical perspective. The populist support for a regime which held elitist and fascist principles above those of the common man which led to the downfall of the Spanish Republic is both ironic and chilling when measured against the scope of reforms which were lost in the defeat of the Republic. That religion, tradition, and firepower proved enough to not only overthrow, but totally crush, a populist movement based in the desire for economic parity should stand as a lesson to all, and most especially those who view pragmatic reform as more capable of generating populist enthusiasm than the traditional cultural and religious elements which have kept them under oppressive regimes for centuries. Works CitedBolloten, Burnett. The Grand Camouflage: The Communist Conspiracy in the Spanish Civil War. New York: Frederick A.
Praeger, 1961.De Meneses, Filipe Ribeiro. Franco and the Spanish Civil War. London: Routledge, 2001.
Preston, Paul. The Coming of the Spanish Civil War: Reform, Reaction, and Revolution in the Second Republic. New York: Routledge, 1994.;