I have also included a few more eclectic suggestions, as well as several of the most relevant websites. However, readers should be aware that much of the most innovative scholarly research on the Spanish Civil War is unavailable in English. The further reading cannot, therefore, give a sense of the range and the richness of the leading-edge bibliography, now predominantly in Spanish, but it will, I hope, provide a useful starting point for the general reader.
I would like to thank all the people who read drafts of my text, and also Emily Jolliffe and Marsha Filion for being kind and patient editors. More generally, I would like to thank my friends, colleagues, and students for everything they have taught me about the collective endeavour of doing history. All remaining shortcomings and errors are, of course, entirely my own responsibility. If contacted they will be pleased to rectify these at the earliest opportunity.
The Spanish Civil War began with a military coup. But the coup of 17—18 July was an old instrument being used for a new purpose. It aimed to halt the mass political democracy set in train by the effects of the First World War and the Russian Revolution, and accelerated by the ensuing social, economic, and cultural changes of the s and s. It is also true that when Spaniards retrospectively attribute the causes of the civil war, they often describe thoughts and feelings that were produced by the war itself.
Nevertheless, even in the immediate aftermath of the July military coup and before any international factors could come into play, extreme forms of internecine violence were already occurring virtually throughout Spain. So historians are required to explore what this violence meant and how it related to the pre-war domestic environment.
Three factors were crucial here. First, the extremely uneven levels of development that obtained inside Spain by the s. This deprived the country of its protected external markets and in so doing kick-started an intermittent and acrimonious debate over how Spain should modernize itself economically and who should bear the cost. They came up against 2 the interests of an entrenched agrarian sector that was inevitably more powerful in a country whose economy was still mainly based in agriculture.
The large landowners whose estates dominated the southern half of Spain would have been the elite sector most affected by economic and political reform. These changes were slower than in some other European countries, but by the second decade of the 20th century urban Spain was on the move. This belief was already deeply ingrained by the time the year-old Francisco Franco entered the military academy in What was deadly about this new interpretation of imperial defence was that it came to be directed against other groups of Spaniards who symbolized the social and economic changes occurring in the towns and cities.
The Spanish Civil War coal mines, iron and steel foundries, shipbuilding and northeast Catalan textiles. Similarly affected was the Valencia region on the northeast seaboard, where urbanization and industrial development reinforced an historic anti-centralism federalism. These economic changes and the developments that accompanied them — such as better communications and transport and the relatively freer circulation of new ideas — created new social constituencies: an urban professional sector and industrial workers, both of whom increasingly wanted a political voice.
The traditional order with its highly restrictive franchise was thus coming under increasing strain in urban Spain. But another country existed that was still far less affected by these demands. In the centre and north, the bulk of the population were peasant smallholders, most of them of modest means, some very poor.
This rural society was serviced by the populations of agrarian or market towns, inhabited by a provincial middle class of similar social attitudes. It was a rigid world bound by the ties of custom and tradition in which a conservative form of Catholicism provided the common language, value, and culture. The close relationship between Church and community in centre-north Spain was cemented by the crucial pastoral role played by local priests.
Not only did the Church provide spiritual solace but also practical support — often in the shape of rural credit banks that offered a life-saving resource to an impoverished small peasantry perpetually threatened by crop failure and fearful of falling prey to money lenders. The Church hierarchy clung to it not least to stave off the consequences of encroaching political liberalism and cultural pluralism — both of which profoundly challenged its own monopoly on truth.
Spain did not participate militarily. It was in urban Spain, however, that the resulting social protest seriously alarmed elite groups, who now viewed indigenous protest through the lens of the Russian Revolution. Not only did it have little authority among urban workers, but the teeming poor of the rural south were also long lost to it. Southern Spain was dominated by massive estates worked by landless peasants whose lives were a constant struggle against starvation.
The norm of huge estates growing a single crop meant that labourers were dependent on a sole source of income, which, even then, was only available for part of the year — at planting and harvesting times. In the absence of any public welfare provision or other forms of poor relief, this dependency turned the landless poor into virtual slaves at the disposal of landlords and estate bailiffs.
The Spanish Civil War: A Very Short Introduction by Helen Graham
Labourers were brutalized by estate stewards and the rural police, the hated civil guard who shot unemployed workers foraging for acorns and wood on estate land. The systematic abuse of the powerless made violence endemic in this tightly repressed rural society. But the periodic slave revolts of the rural poor were easily repressed by the police — no less after the First World War than in earlier periods. It was welcomed by the reigning monarch, King Alfonso XIII, who strongly favoured military over constitutional solutions to the problems of government.
They wanted constitutional rights as a defence of their own interests against the arbitrary power of the dictator. But even a military dictatorship found itself blocked here by corporate military interests, while the landed elites thwarted the extension of key social reforms to the impoverished masses of the rural south. With a groundswell of Republican sentiment in urban Spain, the Catholic Church was the only institution of the old regime unequivocally to back the monarchy. The memory of the dangerously novel elements of the dictatorship may, paradoxically, have made the prospect of a 6 Republic seem less momentous to elite groups in consequence.
Indeed, when the Republic was declared peacefully on 14 April , it may even have been viewed as a useful means of pacifying the popular opinion represented by the jubilant crowds thronging the big city streets. Agrarian reform was intended to create in southern Spain a smallholding peasantry with a republican allegiance whose increased purchasing power would also provide an internal market that could stimulate industrial development. Church and state were to be separated and the public subsidy to clergy phased out, thus releasing resources to fund a national system of non-religious primary education through which the republican nation would be made.
First, the progressive republicans, a political class of mainly lawyers and teachers, forming groupuscules rather than mass parties. A historically moderate and reformist political organization, the socialists were the only mass political movement in Spain when the Republic was declared. They saw themselves as the heirs of the revolution in France and sought to open Spain up to Europe, implementing economic and cultural modernization on the French model in four crucial respects: reform of land ownership, education, State-Church relations, and the army.
The Spanish Civil War civilian and constitutional control. All the republican reforms, as well as the social welfare legislation of their socialist colleagues, were designed to increase economic democracy as the essential prerequisite for establishing political democracy. Progressive republicans were above all constitutionalists, though they understood that many more of the economically and socially dispossessed had to be included before the Republic could effectively implement the rule of law.
But understanding a situation is one thing, having the power required to implement the necessary measures is quite another. Indeed, it was almost certainly too ambitious to attempt so much at one time. Even worse, the attempt was being made at a time of world economic depression, when the new government was saddled with a burden of debt from the Primo dictatorship.
So the perceived backlog of reform again viewed in comparative European perspective was considerable. The response of the ecclesiastical hierarchy struck an apocalyptic note even before the Republic had begun to make policy. The pastoral letter issued by the Cardinal Primate on 1 May contained an incendiary royalist homily that caused the government to require him to leave Spain.
His call to the faithful to mobilize in spiritual and patriotic rearmament came close to 8 declaring the Republic an illegitimate regime. Moreover, the public words of other bishops did so overtly when they described the Republic as the triumph of error and sin. The academy became the forcing ground for ideas of imperial rebirth, of the military as the guardian and saviour of Spain, and was thus an integral part of an emergent politics of the ultra-nationalist right. This was a world where people had fewer and fewer personal ties to other social groups. A new, small-scale colonial venture was begun in Morocco in the early years of the 20th century.
But the experience of the North African campaigns forged a brand of warrior nationalism that only further hardened military attitudes. The Spanish Civil War civilian and constitutional control on the army, they also found it affronting their ultra-centralist principles. For the republicans and socialists, though quite centralist-minded themselves, were prepared to devolve some political powers to the historic nationalities of the Basque Country and Catalonia as an exercise in regime-building and democratic good faith.
Republican reforms would inevitably curtail both. Even the military dictatorship of the s had come adrift when it attempted to interfere with army prerogatives. This did not bode well for despised civilian politicians — republicans to boot — who were bidding to reform the army head on. Nor was the apocalyptic strain necessarily headier later rather than earlier. Something had certainly changed, though mainly this did not have to do with the military. People of the middling sort in the centre-north conservative heartland also began to raise their voices against the new Republic.
This mainly had to do with the Church. There was always going to be ecclesiastical opposition to measures such as the separation of Church and State. Or rather, loyalty to these things was indivisible. At Ezkioga in the Basque Country there were new Marian apparitions in , when people reported seeing visions of the Virgin Mary. Large pilgrimages ensued. As the social history of 19th- and 20th-century Europe shows, religious visions tend to occur at times of trauma-inducing upheaval.
Common triggers are economic crises, epidemics, war, and political persecution. Although it is not usually a conscious process, religion then takes on an additionally powerful meaning, as a defence against new and frightening things. But Catholic mobilization in s Spain was predominantly that of lay people who, well before the Civil War itself, came to see themselves as engaged on a crusade to defend an endangered way of life.
This was equally true whether in the rural fastnesses of northern Navarre where the quasi-theocratic Carlists, radically opposed to all manifestations of social and cultural modernity, were training their militia, or among Catholic youth in provincial towns and even the big cities who became activists in the new mass organizations of the Right. Certainly the religious issue The Spanish Civil War could be manipulated, as it was when the large landowners of the south successfully used it to mobilize poor northern smallholders against an agrarian reform that damaged only their own interests.
The politics of mass popular conservatism were, nevertheless, more than the product of elite manipulation. It is equally true, however, that the political forms of this new conservative mobilization would have been inconceivable without the well-established organizational networks of the Catholic Church in Spain. Republican reformers got the worst of all worlds. They legislated to debar the religious orders from teaching, believing that they represented an insuperable barrier to the creation of a republican nation in Spain.
But in practice, as a result of both subterfuge and legal delays, the attempted debarment failed. When the Civil War erupted in the summer of there still had not been a period of Republican government when religious personnel had actually ceased to teach in Spain. Yet, in attempting such an exclusion, the republicans had mobilized a powerful coalition of conservative forces against themselves.
Republican secularization was, then, impolitic, ill thought-out, and largely counter-productive. Some commentators have also argued that it was ethically questionable — all the more so given that the Republic had staked its own legitimacy on constitutional principles. But this is less straightforward than they imply.
Polemics about secularization are very much still alive in politically liberal and culturally diverse Western societies of the 21st century, yet few would suggest that their basic constitutional credentials are negated thereby. Conservative Catholics in s Spain were outraged that their beliefs and practices were being constrained, but they themselves entertained no concept of civil and cultural rights within the Spanish state 12 for those professing other religions, still less for freethinkers or atheists.
The ultimate political irony is that the Spanish Right of the s, which was fundamentally hostile to the notion of progressive democratic change, learned to operate very successfully in the new political environment of the Republic in order to put a brake on that change. The political Left, on the other hand, proved far less successful or adaptable. Why should this have been so? Also confronting republicans and socialists was the enormous gap between political authority and real power. The new government had the legitimacy invested in it by the democratic electoral process.
It could pass legislation in the Madrid parliament. But ensuring its implementation beyond that parliament was quite another matter. Widest of all was the gap between the parliamentary socialist movement and the anti-parliamentary anarcho-syndicalist CNT. These differences were not a matter of voluntarism or sheer bloody-mindedness, as the standard historical narrative so often implies.
For example, the direct political action favoured by many anarcho-syndicalists instantly recommended itself to the unskilled and the landless poor, whose lack of bargaining power and social defencelessness made socialist promises of gradual change through the ballot box seem immensely improbable, if not downright incredible. The Spanish Civil War guard to discipline recalcitrant workers after 14 April just as they had done before. Police personnel remained unchanged and were thus still enmeshed in clientelistic relations with the local elites.
If for many Catholics the Republic was Antichrist, for these people it was conceived of as a source of Messianic salvation. The thwarting of popular aspirations for social change produced disillusion not only among the landless poor and unemployed of the rural south exasperated by the durability of the old relations of power, but also among worker constituencies in urban Spain.
Here the effects of the depression were beginning to bite. Many were now living below the level of subsistence. The only policy area in which they were prepared to spend was in education, where they borrowed substantially to fund their school-building programme. The republican-socialist government did more in relative terms to deliver social welfare than any previous administration. Ironically, it was in part the huge level of popular expectation of the Republic that saw this achievement interpreted as a policy failure. Reforms on the statute book were a dead letter.
The elites sought to roll back even the small amount of redistributive change that had been pushed through in the localities. It is in the context of explosive anger and frustration at the backlash against reform that we have to understand the mounting strikes and protests of The new urban police force created by the Republic evicted rent strikers and, in response to complaints from shopkeepers and the Chamber of Commerce, cleared the streets of itinerant street traders selling cheap food to the poor and marginal.
With reform being blocked in the localities, and with the depression taking its toll in rural and urban Spain, the strains on constitutional democracy began to tell. It was hard for the republicans credibly to demand respect for the rules of the game from those who on a daily basis were being excluded from it by the denial of their social and economic rights as citizens. These were, moreover, rights that were supposed to be guaranteed by the constitution and the law.
The Spanish Civil War into the city streets. Not only was the space of Spanish politics shifting, but the mobilization of the young across the political spectrum — and of young women in particular — was tranforming its very nature. The frustrations on the Left culminated in October in an attempt to launch a revolutionary general strike. This ran out of steam even in Madrid, where radicalized sectors of the socialist youth movement took the lead. But the northern coal-mining region of Asturias, with its contentious history of labour relations and hard hit by recession, exploded into armed rebellion.
A harsh and extensive repression ensued throughout Asturias in which General Franco, as de facto head of the war ministry, deployed both native Moroccan troops and the Foreign Legion, fearing that Spanish conscripts were not to be trusted politically. Constitutional guarantees were suspended across Spain. The impact on the Left was catastrophic.
Thirty thousand people were imprisoned and many of them tortured. Socialist town councils were overthrown, civil servants of liberal or left opinions were discriminated against, and everywhere employers and management took the opportunity to dismiss trade unionists and left activists en masse. The events of October are often cited by historians as evidence that the Spanish Left could not be trusted to play by the democratic rules. It also ignores the obvious lesson to be drawn from what happened in Asturias: that, in fact, the Left had no other option but to work for social change through legal, parliamentary channels.
For in any showdown of physical force 16 it simply could not prevail. Even the history of more minor confrontations between workers and the state since indicated this.
This realization, and an awareness of the need for political unity on the Left, gave birth to a new electoral coalition of progressive forces that won the elections in February on a ticket of re-enacting the parliamentary reform programme of —3. What might progressive forces on the Left have done to defuse the situation? A government reinforced by the parliamentary socialist party would have been an improvement on the timorous all-republican cabinet, whose members seemed incapable of decisive action even though by the spring of it was an open secret that a military coup was being planned.
But the socialists had their own problems: there were deep internal political splits in the movement. And just like the republicans, the socialist leaders — for all their progressive social policies — were, ironically, less than comfortable with the new politics of mass mobilization that the Republic had ushered in. The s in Spain saw the development of a series of culture wars that would play out during the years of the Civil War itself.
As in all culture wars, the way people mythologized their fears generated violence. But what allowed any of this to occur at all was the military coup. Its original act of violence was that it killed off the possibility of other forms of peaceful political evolution. The mechanism of a coup gave the July rising against mass democracy a traditional political veneer. But the quasi-social Darwinist mission of the military rebels hatched in colonial North Africa, to conquer and purify metropolitan Spain — which will be discussed in the next chapter — indicated something violently new.
Their own language thus inadvertently acknowledged the depth of the post-Enlightenment social and political change that they were seeking to reverse in Spain. The division of Spain, 22 July Chapter 2 Rebellion, revolution, and repression Every age remains in the memory of future generations. But every age has its own internal logic, its own structure of feeling. A day later the rebellion spread to mainland Spain in the form of provincial garrison revolts.
The simultaneous collapse of the police compounded these already grave problems, creating a vacuum of authority in most Republican-held areas that had no parallel in the rebel zone, where the military took control from the outset. In spite of regime collapse, however, loyal elements in the police joined forces with the worker militia, formed by trade unions and political parties of the Left to meet the emergency; together they were able to quell the garrison revolts in most of urban industrial Spain.
Rebel soldiers enter a town in southern Spain in the opening stages of the Civil War. The children who have joined the procession carry an image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus — an old religious symbol now mediating a new form of mass conservative mobilization. Elsewhere in the countryside of the deep south, the presence of thousands of landless peasants was initially a factor inhibiting the success of the coup, while on the northeast seaboard, Catalonia and the Valencian region, with their confederal past and strong anti-centralist sentiment, would remain Republican throughout the war.
The areas that came immediately under the control of the military 22 rebels tended to be those that had returned conservative majorities in the February elections. This meant mainly the rural, smallholding centre-north and northwest of Spain. The case of the Basque Country in northern Spain was exceptional, because there strong support for a regional nationalist agenda of political autonomy aligned even social conservatives against the ultra-centralist military rebels. In order to make their coup viable, the military rebels also had to 23 Rebellion, revolution, and repression But the logic of pre-war political geography is not the whole explanation for the territorial disposition emerging after 18 July.
No area of Spain was entirely and homogenously conservative. Even in their heartland the military rebels still had violently to repress some civilian sectors that resisted; as happened with port workers in the northwest town of Vigo in Galicia. Bloody repression also acted as a force of coercion more broadly. For example, people in villages and small towns who had entertained vague Republican sympathies suddenly felt compelled to align themselves publicly with the new rebel authorities in order to protect their families, even if this sometimes meant betraying friendships and personal allegiances.
So we see the complex and contradictory motives that so often lay behind the apparently binary choices made by people in the wake of the rebellion. In part because of this the rebels too faced a certain degree of military dislocation — a shattered army cut both ways. The Spanish Civil War The division of Spain resulting from the botched coup initially appeared to favour the Republic.
With most of the big urban centres, the Republic also had control of industry. Facing likely defeat, the military rebels requested and received planes from Hitler and Mussolini to transport their crack troops, the Foreign Legion and the Army of Africa, across the Straits of Gibraltar to mainland Spain. The Straits were temporarily blockaded by the Republican navy, which had mutinied against its pro-rebel commanders.
Hitler and Mussolini agreed to intervene at the same time, but each made his decision independently. Neither dictator was intending to become embroiled in a long war, rather they were offering planes to achieve what they calculated could be a rapid rebel victory. This would guarantee a friendly Spain and thus serve their strategic interests. But things did not go according to plan — not least because of Republican resistance. For urban and rural workers, and for the poor more generally in Spain, the state still had overwhelmingly negative connotations: military conscription, indirect taxation, and everyday persecution — particularly for the unionized.
In urban and rural northeast Spain Barcelona and Aragon and in Republican parts of the rural south, industry and agriculture were collectivized, and trade union and party committees organized emergency defence and met the needs of their neighbourhood or village. Frequently too there was a desire to accelerate these into a revolutionary new order.
This was possible at least for a time in the approximate two-thirds of Spain remaining to the Republic precisely because the coup had induced the collapse of the regime. The normal functions of government were in abeyance; the paralysis of police and army also gave a huge impetus to localism. It could scarcely have been otherwise in a country still so marked by the invertebrateness deriving from uneven economic development, where allegiance remained to the immediate community patria chica as the lived unit of experience.
In some places every village made its own revolution, organizing its life independently of everywhere else. The Spanish Civil War Nor, outside of the bigger towns and cities, was political sectarianism between organizations of the Left yet that much in evidence. Otherwise it would have been inconceivable that a member of the CNT from a village in Valencia province could in have named his baby daughter after Stalin. This absence of sectarianism indicates that at the start of the war political organizations of the Left often had only a tenuous organizational presence outside the main urban centres.
In the process, the balance of social, economic, and political power was shifted in many communities. This shift was produced in a rather darker way too by a wave of violence. But the acts of violence committed by ordinary people in Republican territory immediately after the military rising had a clearly discernible political dimension.
Avenging violence was directed at the sources and bearers of the old power — whether material by destroying property records and land registries or human the 26 assassination or brutalization of priests, civil guards, police, employers, and estate bailiffs. First and foremost it had a symbolic charge: people were not only killing or humiliating their human enemy but also attacking feared or oppressive sources of power and authority in which they saw the individual victim embedded.
Indeed, the best-known, if far from the only, example of symbolic killing in Republican Spain was anticlerical violence on an unprecedented scale which claimed the lives of nearly seven thousand overwhelmingly male religious personnel. Priests and monks were killed because they were seen as representing an oppressive Church historically associated with the rich and powerful whose ecclesiastical hierarchy had backed the military rebellion. The laity too were sometimes engulfed by this anticlerical anger. As one oral testimony has recalled, the church singer and the bell-ringer were part of an old world that had to be annihilated.
Nor was the paradox of an inherently religious component to anticlerical violence less true in Spain than elsewhere. The act of desecration itself — churches destroyed or turned to profane uses; the remains of religious personnel disinterred — speaks eloquently of the power still invested in religion and the Church by the desecrators themselves.
The Spanish Civil War confront the mounting military challenge posed by the rebels. Although there were many instances of individual political leaders intervening to save lives. It was their determination to end uncontrolled violence that provided a powerful ethical drive to the bid to restore the authority of the central Republican government in the face of coup-induced fragmentation. But, again in retrospect, we can see that it was the military rebellion itself that created the conditions for violence on such a scale and not only in Republican territory.
In the days and weeks after the July coup, public declarations were made by local civilian elites in the rebel zone — whether bosses of the fascist Falange or people associated with the mass Catholic party, CEDA, or monarchist landowners or businessmen or clerics. These were made independently of each other and of the military authorities, but they were remarkably similar.
What there was, however, was a culture war that the perpetrators carried in their heads. The coup had sanctioned its unleashing and thus opened the way to mass murder. The impulse to kill was driven even more clearly than it was in Republican territory by a manichaean mindset historically 28 associated with certain forms of Catholic culture and practice. But the driving force of violence was similarly the annihilation of the other. What they had in common was that they were perceived as representing the changes brought by the Republic.
This did not just mean the politically active — although Republican members of parliament or village mayors were primary targets for liquidation if caught. Rebel violence was targeted against the socially, culturally, and sexually different. The Spanish Civil War 3. What occurred was a massacre of civilians by other civilians. Mostly this took the form of death squads abducting people from their homes or else taking them out of prison. In a majority of cases the assassins had close links to rightist political organizations that had backed the coup, in particular the fascist Falange.
But the military authorities made no attempt to reign in this terror. When the coup occurred there was a strong belief among those who felt threatened that if they could get back to their place of origin, their village, their patria chica, there they would be safe from the vicious fall-out of national political divisions. So many of the victims of extra-judicial killing in rebel territory — whether famous or anonymous — died 31 Rebellion, revolution, and repression This points to the fundamental asymmetry between the violence occurring in Republican and rebel zones.
The military authorities had the resources to stem the violence — for there was no collapse of the police or public order in rebel areas. But they chose not to. Why they did not reveals a great deal about the political dynamic taking shape in rebel Spain. The military were of course unconcerned about the unconstitutionalism of extra-judicial murder per se. For those who had rebelled against the Republic, liberal politics, constitutionalism, and the language of rights were perceived as the problem not the solution.
Local ties, the bonds of friendship — occasionally even family — also linked the military to the vigilantes. First, it was intended to teach those who had believed in the Republic as a vehicle of change that their aspirations would always be bought at too high a price. So the violence was a way of shaking up society while staving off the redistribution of social and economic power heralded by the Republic.
Second — although this was not necessarily a conscious intention — a crucial complicity was created between the rebel authorities and those sectors of the population that engaged in or connived at the repression of their friends, neighbours, and family members. This complicity began to lay the foundations, bottom up, of a new rebel state and social order. The Spanish Civil War precisely because they went home. Workers and other civilian defenders had no adequate means of resisting it.
About the author
In its wake the repression escalated as the Army strategically butchered and terrorized the pro-Republican population, especially the rural landless. The large landowners who owned the vast estates which covered most of the southern half of Spain rode along with the Army of Africa to reclaim by force of arms the land on which the Republic had settled the landless poor.
In villages across the rebel-held south there was systematic brutality, torture, shaving and rape of women, and mass public killings of both men and women in the aftermath of conquest. Sometimes villages were literally wiped off the map by repression. The war was being fought as if it were a colonial campaign against insubordinate indigenous peoples. Franco, although from more modest provincial origins in northern Spain, had himself spent ten and a half years in Spanish 32 North Africa, making his military career there in the brutal colonial war.
Long before the Italians in Ethiopia if not before the British in Mesopotamia , Spain had used poisonous gas, of German manufacture, against its colonial population in Morocco. On 27 July, Franco was interviewed by the North American journalist Jay Allen, whose report three weeks later on the massacre of Republican defenders in the southern town of Badajoz would catapult the Spanish war into newspaper headlines throughout Europe and America. In spite of this the military rebels received very little bad press in the mainstream media beyond Spain.
Among the reasons for this was one immensely powerful one: the legitimation of the coup provided by the Catholic Church. This led rapidly to the presentation of their war effort as a crusade. Nevertheless, it was not without its problems for the rebels, not the least of which was the enormous and evident contradiction of a latter-day Catholic crusade whose front-line troops were Islamic mercenaries.
This led to some remarkable verbal contortions in the reports of the Spanish journalists accompanying the colonial Army during its southern march: at the hour of liberation [of the Toledo garrison siege in September ] women of Castile received from African hands a bread as white as Communion bread. The question of race and racism here would, however, remain below the political surface for the duration of the war. The Spanish Left had never developed an anticolonialist discourse. Nor during the Civil War was the Republic ever able successfully to elaborate a strategic anticolonialism. But no such initiative was seriously contemplated for fear of upsetting Britain and France, as senior colonial powers on whose support the Spanish Republicans were pinning their hopes — especially once the scale of German and Italian fascist aid to the rebels had become evident.
The Army of Africa seemed unstoppable. They were pitted in open country against troops, artillery, and German and Italian air bombardments. Every time the rebel army took a centre of population, atrocities ensued. On 3 September the rebels took Talavera de la Reina, the last important town separating them from the capital, Madrid. In a bare month they had advanced almost kilometres. The nominal leader of the rebellion, General Emilio Mola, whose campaign had stalled in the mountains north of Madrid, lacked the cachet of victory.
The deaths of a number of other front-rank military conspirators also removed potential rivals. What allowed Franco to avail himself of such opportunities was, however, his spectacular progress in the south. The Spanish Civil War Thousands of Spanish workers had committed their energies and in many cases given their lives to achieving the social transformation of collectivization in the Republican south and elsewhere.
But these radical initiatives remained locally focused and highly fragmented. It was a lesson paid for in blood by the thousands of men and women who fought and died in the south. Now everyone had to be brought on board — the politically unmobilized sectors of the population, middle-class sectors, and especially their female constituencies, in order to mount a modern war effort. Otherwise the Republic would not survive. When the coup occurred the Republican government had straightaway attempted 19 July to secure military aid from the Western democracies — Britain and France.
But it came up against British hostility and French reluctance after an initial offer of assistance. Instead, the two democracies proposed and established a Non-Intervention treaty in August that debarred state and private enterprise in signatory countries from delivering war material to Spain. Germany and Italy signed the treaty, though they also continued freely aiding the military rebels.
So Non-Intervention worked solely against the Republic and would do so for the duration of the war. Secondly, a rebel victory was perceived as the best defence of capital and private property in Spain, including substantial British investment. But the two situations were not structurally comparable, and fears of imminent social revolution in Spain and especially of the nationalization of British assets were unfounded.
It went right back to its birth in April For it was the military coup itself that caused the temporary collapse of public order in Republican Spain. At the same time, the British authorities managed to put a rather different gloss on the killing in the rebel zone. A blind eye was also turned to initial German and Italian intervention. Had it reacted negatively to their initial involvement, then it is clear that the two dictators 38 would not have intervened so lavishly — indeed, might even have ceased their intervention.
Neither was yet ready for a confrontation with Britain. The largesse of Hitler and Mussolini was, above all, strategically motivated. By supporting the rebels they sought to obliterate the Republic and thus remove the danger of a liberal-left Franco-Spanish bloc that would obstruct their expansionist foreign policy goals.
Ideology too played a part. But the anti-communist discourse used by the fascist dictators to justify their intervention in Spain also had an important strategic function. It allowed them to neutralize British opposition to their escalating involvement. The extent to which this strategy went on working throughout the war would surprise even the Nazi and Fascist leaders.
They could not understand why Britain chose not to react to their underlying game plan: the weakening of both France and Britain as the dominant imperial powers. For, above all things, Hitler and Mussolini intervened in Spain because they saw it as the most effective way of changing the balance of power in Europe.
A sense of vulnerability, increased by the fact that France was now bounded on two sides by fascist powers, made it extremely fearful of diplomatic isolation from Britain. Their arrival had been delayed by a detour in the last week of September to relieve the garrison siege in Toledo. Toledo was also a site of huge symbolic importance to the Spanish Right. Indeed, by delaying the advance on Madrid, Franco gave the Republicans vital time to organize the defence of the capital city. Crucial here was the eleventh-hour provision of military aid by the Soviet Union.
Up until this moment the Soviet Union had remained aloof.
Moscow ignored an initial plea for aid made by the Republican government back in July — once Madrid realized that France was about to renege. Even so, the plea was made more in desperation than with any real anticipation of success. There were no proper diplomatic channels through which the request for aid could have been pursued. When the coup happened, the Soviet Union had rapidly backed the British- and French-inspired policy of Non-Intervention. Given the enormous economic, social, and political upheaval occurring inside the Soviet Union, Stalin was as concerned as policy-makers in Britain to keep the international scene in equilibrium.
Moreover, 40 However, it rapidly became clear that Non-Intervention was not working, and Stalin realized that unless something was done, the Republic was going to collapse under the onslaught. In order to avoid this, Stalin decided to risk British displeasure by dispatching some military assistance. But in an attempt to protect the cherished goal of a defensive alliance with Britain and France, Soviet military assistance to the Republic, unlike its humanitarian equivalent, was never openly acknowledged. Soviet aid saved the Spanish Republic from almost certain military defeat in November He was convinced that the imperial powers would soon have to understand that the greatest and most urgent threat to their interests lay not in Russian communism but in the territorial ambitions of Nazi Germany.
For a time too the Soviet leadership also thought that Non-Intervention, if it could be made to work, would offer the Republic its best chance. The Spanish Civil War Airpower would rapidly become vital. On those occasions when the Republic had the advantage, it was an important factor in its ability to chalk up rare victories — as it did at Jarama just outside Madrid in February and at Guadalajara, 50 kilometres northeast of the capital, in March. The rebels suffered a major defeat and one that turned Madrid into an international symbol of anti-fascist resistance.
From across Europe and beyond artists and writers came to participate in the cultural mobilization that formed a vital part of the Republican war effort. They understood that this was the front line in a greater culture war. If fascism won, then it would snuff out the possibility of producing culture freely.
The battle for Madrid involved intense combat and many casualties, nowhere more than among the International Brigades, who were thrown into the breach as the rebel armies reached the capital. The Brigades were composed of volunteer soldiers of the political Left. The volunteers came from all over the world, but most had their origins in Europe.
Even in the two North American contingents from the USA and Canada — some 3, and 1,strong respectively — the great majority were either European migrants or the children of migrants. They came not only from Germany, Italy, and Austria, but from many other European countries also dominated by right-wing nationalist dictatorships, autocratic monarchies, and the radical fascist Right — including Hungary, Yugoslavia, Romania, Poland, and Finland.
Indeed, it is impossible to understand the International Brigades as an historical phenomenon without taking into account their origins in European 42 diaspora. Just as the violence of the military rebels targeted the socially, culturally, and sexually different, so too did the violence being exercised elsewhere in Europe by the radical Right. Its dislocations had brutalized politics, inducing the birth of the anti-democratic nationalisms that had physically displaced them. For exiles and migrants too, left internationalism was a form of politics quite naturally reinforced by their own diasporic condition.
The stakes were raised further by the economic depression of the s. Mass unemployment and deprivation — particularly in urban areas — accelerated political polarization by seeming to announce the collapse of an untenable capitalist economy that was still being defended by the forces of the Right.
They were thus quite conscious of themselves as political soldiers in an ongoing European civil war. As a European civil war of culture, it was also a race war. There were many Jewish volunteers among the brigaders — about a quarter of the total. Most Jewish brigaders in Spain, however, fought in other units, and many saw their anti-fascism as a more important mark of personal identity than their Jewishness. But this was not just about doing battle with European demons. Viewed through this optic, what the International Brigades symbolize is a certain spirit of future possibility.
They were — though very imperfectly and by no means consciously — the soldiers of cosmopolitan cultural modernity. The survival of this idea long after Republican defeat was made possible not least by the extraordinarily intense quality of the comradeship and solidarity that so many of the foreign volunteers — whether soldiers or medical personnel — experienced in Spain and took away with them as an incandescent and life-changing memory. I am eager to enter it, eager to end it.
Perhaps this will be the last one. The British contingent was decimated at the battle of Jarama in February , where the Lincolns too sustained savage losses. The learning curve was almost perpendicular. Crucial assistance came in the form of foreign medical volunteers: doctors and nurses whose support, along with fund-raising for humanitarian and medical supplies, was an integral part of progressive and left-wing solidarity with the Republic at war.
There were other kinds of advances too — although here the balance sheet was more ambiguous. But when another young woman, Evelyn Hutchins, applied to be sent as an ambulance driver, she came up against entrenched prejudice. The political Left, though keen to further racial equality, could only conceive of recruiting women to Spain as nurses or support staff. In the end Hutchins won, but hers was an isolated victory. Women were not generally 46 recruited for volunteer service in Republican Spain except in functions considered appropriate to the mainstream, and thus socially conservative, gender norms of the times.
This contributed to a broader debate that, in turn, helped produce the more culturally aware New Left movement of the s. The human raw material for the Brigades was rapidly channelled by the Communist International Comintern mainly under the auspices of the French Communist Party PCF , which also provided the single largest national contingent of the Brigades — more than 9, volunteers across the war.
In the s this movement offered by far the most active and dynamic form of organized opposition to fascism, and thus attracted huge swathes of left and liberal constituencies to participate. Nowhere was this more in evidence than over solidarity with Republican Spain. Communist organizations were at the forefront of the campaign to get Non-Intervention lifted. This initially led many of them to support the policy of Non-Intervention, and even after it was seen to be damaging the Republic, socialist leaderships in Europe remained generally reluctant to challenge their governments over the legality of Non-Intervention.
The Comintern provided the vital organizational mechanism that would make it possible systematically to channel to Spain the military expertise of the international Left in order to stave off Republican defeat in the autumn of As soon as the rebuilding of an integrated Republican army was under way in , it began to exert an ineluctable force of attraction that saw the Brigades incorporated to its ranks by autumn of that year.
News From Nowhere Radical & Community Bookshop
For there was a concerted policy of topping them up with Spanish conscripts — a process that accelerated as brigader recruitment declined from its peak in the early months of For all of these reasons, it is a mistake to reduce the complex historical phenomenon of the International Brigades to the simplistic schema of a Comintern army. The international brigaders who went to Spain were volunteers, and as the sociological and historical background already sketched indicates, their motives were as complex and rooted in personal experience as those of the very early volunteers for the Republic in July and August who had gone to Spain in an entirely individual capacity.
Once there, all volunteers came to be subject to military discipline. If this had not happened, then they would have been useless to the Republic, but for some — even for a minority in the Brigades — this rankled precisely because they had signed up as volunteers. No doubt this sense of disillusion was also a 48 function of their shocked realization of how unprepared they were to face the harsh conditions of warfare in Spain — especially given the antiquated weaponry they were obliged to use, courtesy of Non-Intervention.
The bombing itself and the requisite need to organize civil defence began to forge a new sense of a Republican community in adversity. In this way, gradually, forms of Republican identity began to coalesce as a result of the war itself — whether experienced on the home front or at the front line. In the case 49 Mobilize and survive Given that the main function of Comintern personnel was to ensure discipline in the Brigades, there were plenty of material causes for clashes even without taking into account the excessively rigid and doctrinaire organizational and political culture that operated inside the Comintern.
Rigidity was, in short, an indication of Comintern weakness, not strength. The Spanish Civil War 5. The extreme time compression in the emergence of wartime Republican identities makes them appear ultra-contingent, subjective, and fragile.
The Spanish Civil War: A Very Short Introduction
But we should be wary of viewing them as any less real for that than other forms of national identity. Hitler and Mussolini recognized rebel Spain in November Hitler encouraged Mussolini to take the strain. German aid to Franco also increased, but it was qualitatively concentrated on armament technology, equipment, and airpower.
The escalation of the war and the manifest military and diplomatic advantages rapidly accruing to the rebels also produced profound political changes inside Republican Spain. The refugees also constituted a form of accelerated population mobility, and thus a form of social change. While those most severely affected were the refugees themselves, this shock also had a reciprocal dimension, as indicated in Quaker relief work reports from Barcelona and Valencia.
The Spanish Civil War could now resist the military enemy. The greatest challenge was to reconstruct an army. The coup had shattered army unity and the Republican command had to begin almost from scratch. There were excruciating material dislocations and shortages, massively exacerbated by the impact of Non-Intervention. If you have purchased a print title that contains an access token, please see the token for information about how to register your code.
For questions on access or troubleshooting, please check our FAQs , and if you can't find the answer there, please contact us. Very Short Introductions online. Publications Pages Publications Pages. Arts and Humanities Archaeology. Biographical Studies. Byzantine Studies. Classical Studies. Media Studies. Performing Arts. Society and Culture. Criminal Law. Family Law. History of Law. Human Rights and Immigration. Intellectual Property Law.
International Law. Jurisprudence and Philosophy of Law. Legal System and Practice. Medical and Healthcare Law. Allied Health Professions. Clinical Medicine. History of Medicine. Preclinical Medicine. Public Health and Epidemiology. Biological Sciences. Computer Science. Earth Sciences and Geography. Engineering and Technology.