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What is the Spanish Civil War?
The Spanish civil war was a warlike conflict developed in Spain from July 18, 1936 to April 1, 1939 between the republican side and the rebellious or national side.
It was the result of a long process of political, economic and social instability during the Second Spanish Republic. The crisis fueled the polarization between left and right, in an international context of growing ideological tensions.
The trigger for the war was the attempted coup, perpetrated by Generals Emilio Mola and Francisco Franco, among others, who initially only managed to control part of the territory. The rebels won the war in 1939 and established a military dictatorship that ended when Franco died in 1975.
Causes of the Spanish Civil War
Socioeconomic inequality. Spain suffered from deep socioeconomic inequality, marked by high unemployment and numerous workers’ strikes.
Left expansion. Faced with the frustrations of the people, worker and peasant sectors joined the revolutionary agenda of the left in its different aspects, some moderate and others radical.
The expansion of fascism . Conservatives feared the establishment of a Bolshevik-style communist regime. Consequently, many resisted and affirmed themselves in the fascist nationalism that was then growing in Europe.
Concern about the agrarian reform. The government of the Second Republic promoted an agrarian reform, the terms of which aroused the fears of the affected sectors and left its beneficiaries dissatisfied.
Anticlericalism. The Second Republic encouraged the persecution of the Catholic Church, radicalized between February and June 1936. In its beginnings it involved confiscation of property, dissolution of religious orders and prohibition of Christian education in schools. Later, it led to the destruction of churches and the murder of priests.
Independence in emergency. The Spanish political unity was threatened by the strengthening of the Basque and Catalan independence movement, which affirmed the state nationalism among the conservatives.
Political instability and radicalization. Since its proclamation in 1931, the Second Republic faced several coups d’état and internal rebellions. The growing radicalization of both the right and the left has alienated the moderate sectors.
The attempted coup of 1936. The attempted coup perpetrated between July 17 and 18, 1936 was the trigger for the Spanish civil war. By not winning throughout the territory, he unleashed the armed conflict for control of Spain.
Summary of the Spanish Civil War
On April 14, 1931, the Second Spanish Republic was proclaimed and, on December 9 of the same year, the new democratic Constitution was approved. This meant the end of a period of military dictatorships, such as those of General Manuel Primo de Rivera (1923-1930), Dámaso Berenguer (1930-1931) and Juan Bautista Aznar (February-April 1931).
Republican policies generated fierce opposition from conservatives. The most radical sectors of the right carried out various coups between 1932 and 1936. The political crisis also divided the left between moderates and radicals, and soon there were fractures that led to the rebellion of October 1934.
In January 1936, a coalition of left-wing parties called the Popular Front was formed, which was the winner in the February elections of that year. However, two months later the PSOE split internally, weakening the elected government.
The coup of July 1936
On July 17, 1936, an uprising of the military in Spanish Africa began. It was perpetrated by Emilio Mola, José Sanjurjo, Francisco Franco, Miguel Cabanellas, Gonzalo Queipo de Llano, Joaquín Fanjul and Manuel Goded. By July 18, the rebels had managed to control only part of the territory, which divided the country into two zones.
The rebels controlled rural Spain: León, Castilla la Vieja, part of Cáceres and Aragón, Galicia, Navarra, Álava, the protectorate of Morocco, the Balearic Islands (except Menorca), the Canary Islands (except La Palma). They also controlled the cities Seville, Córdoba, Cádiz and Granada.
The Popular Front controlled the large urban centers of the country, such as Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, Bilbao, Malaga and Murcia, along with the rest of the territory.
Sides of the Spanish Civil War
The rebellious side, calling itself national, was initially made up of the National Defense Board. The main parties and movements that supported the national side were:
- Spanish Falange Party,
- Carlist movement,
- Monarchical Party Spanish Renovation,
- Spanish Confederation of Autonomous Rights,
- Regionalist League, among others.
The troops of the nationals consisted mainly of professional military personnel. In September 1936, Francisco Franco was appointed generalissimo and head of the national government.
The Republican side was made up of the Popular Front, a coalition of left-wing parties that led the government of the Second Republic. It brought together parties of different approaches: republicanism, social democracy, liberalism, socialism, communism and anarchism. They all shared the anti-fascist spirit. Among the main parties on the Republican side are:
- Republican Left (IR),
- Republican Union (UR),
- Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE),
- Communist Party of Spain (PCE),
- Workers’ Party of Marxist Unification (POUM),
- Syndicalist Party,
- Galeguista Party,
- Basque Nationalist Action,
- Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (Esquerra), and others.
A good part of the Republican troops were made up of civilian militias.
The rebel side had the resolute support of Germany and Italy mainly, nations identified with fascism. Hitler collaborated with weapons on credit and sent the Condor Legion. Benito Mussolini sent the Legionary Aviation and its troops. Portugal also sent the so-called “viriatos”, a group of 8,000 voluntary recruits devoted to the cause.
The Republican side had the support of the Soviet Union and Mexico, whose president was Lázaro Cárdenas. The Republicans received military units from foreign volunteers, known as International Brigades . They also received weapons. However, weapons had to be paid for in cash and were often out of date.
Milestones of the Spanish Civil War
There were many offensives, battles and maneuvers that took place during the Spanish civil war. Therefore, below we will make a list of the most influential milestones in the definition of the conflict.
The battle of Irún. Between August 27 and September 5, 1936, the Battle of Irún (Guipúzcoa, Basque Country) took place. The offensive of the rebels cut the communication by land with France and interrupted the supply of weapons through this route.
The massacre of Paracuellos. In November 1936, the Republican side carried out the so-called Paracuellos Massacre. It was about the murder of almost five thousand prisoners in his custody, including 276 minors, considered political enemies.
The battle of Jarama. With the battle of Jarama, carried out between February 6 and 27, 1937, the rebels tried to count the communications between Madrid and Valencia, but the Republican side managed to resist.
Northern offensive. Also called Campaña del Norte or Frente del Norte, it was an offensive of the rebels developed between April and October 1937. The rebels managed to take Vizcaya, Asturias and Santander. With this, they assured control of the industrial, coal and steel production of the occupied region, a decisive strategy in the conflict.
The bombing of Guernica. In April 1937, the Condor Legion and the Legionary Aviation bombed the city of Guernica, in the Basque country. The event had a great impact on international public opinion.
There is no consensus on who ordered the bombing and what its purpose was due to lack of documentation. The nationals denied having given the order. Some historians think that it could be an initiative of the Nazis, who tried to send a message to England.
The battle of Brunete. Between July 6 and 25, 1937, the Battle of Brunete took place on the outskirts of Madrid. The Republican offensive was intended to contain the rebels. But the maneuver only weakened them.
The battle of Belchite. Between August 24 and September 7, 1937, the Battle of Belchite (Zaragoza, Aragon) took place, in the context of the Zaragoza offensive. The republicans undertook the offensive to prevent the fall of Bilbao and reduce the pressure exerted by the rebels on the Northern Front. The strategy failed.
Internal debugging. Throughout the entire development of the civil war, there was a process of repression and internal purification within each area dominated by the opposing sides. This involved the persecution and death of dissidents from side to side.
The Battle of the Ebro. On July 25, 1938, the Battle of the Ebro (Tarragona, Catalonia) began, known for being the longest and most cruel confrontation of the war. The battle lasted until November 16. The rebellious side was victorious and clearly outlined as the victor of the war.
The end of the Spanish civil war
Once Catalonia was controlled, the nationals advanced towards Madrid in February 1939, and Francisco Franco was recognized by the governments of the United Kingdom and France. In March of that year the Second Republic presented its surrender.
The war ended when Francisco Franco declared its end in the so-called last part of the Spanish civil war , issued on April 1, 1939.
Consequences of the Spanish Civil War
Destruction of the agricultural sector. The war destroyed much of the life in the countryside, affecting the food production and supply chain.
Direct and indirect deaths. It is estimated that the war left at least half a million deaths. Of this number, about 175 thousand were casualties of the popular or republican army; about 110 thousand were casualties of the rebel army; about one hundred thousand deaths were caused by famine and disease. The rest were civilian deaths during the attacks and executions.
Destruction of infrastructure. The war destroyed a significant number of buildings, including homes, civil service buildings, industries, heritage buildings, churches, etc.
Establishment of the dictatorship. After the triumph of the national side, Francisco Franco established a dictatorship that lasted until his death in 1975. The dictatorship maintained the practice of political violence, through persecution, disappearances, assassinations and institutional purges.
Economic crisis. The economic crisis left by the war lasted for some years. It is estimated that, on average, Spaniards lost 30% of their income.
Exiles. An important number of representatives and supporters of the defeated side was exiled by Francisco Franco. It is estimated that there were about 250,000 cases.
Radicalization of society. The radicalization continued to turn into mutual accusations about the responsibilities of left and right in the civil war, even causing the division of families.
Political isolation from Spain. The Franco government’s relations with Italian and German fascism isolated Spain from the international community. However, the isolation was diluted with the Cold War, as the Franco dictatorship came to represent a bastion of the fight against communism.