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Spanish Francoism (The Civil War)

Here in the United States, we have had an established and successful republic for well over two
hundred years. But elsewhere in the world, republics are a much younger novelty and some did
not succeed in their first attempt. Such was the case in 20th-century Spain, where several years
of attempted republican rule erupted into civil war, eventually giving way to a fascist dictatorship
that lasted well into the 1970s.
Spain in the 1930s
Prior to the 1930s, Spain was a constitutional monarchy under King Alfonso XIII, though from
1923 to 1930 Spain was ruled by General Miguel Primo de Rivera, a military dictator. Rivera's
rule was marked by strict censorship of the press and a suspension of the Spanish constitution.
However, Rivera did institute multiple infrastructure projects, which lowered unemployment and
aided the Spanish economy.
Regardless of Rivera's economic improvements, Spain was still largely a rural country
economically based on agriculture exports. As a result, Spain was hurt considerably by the
international economic downturn caused by the 1929 Wall Street collapse. For example, the
precipitous fall of the prices of wine and olive oil, two of Spain's chief exports, caused agriculture
to be virtually a worthless endeavor. Rivera's policies did little to help; in 1930 he attempted to
raise public loans to pay for his social programs. This blunder and the continued economic
downturn caused Rivera to resign.
In the wake of Rivera's resignation, Spain held its first democratic elections of the 20th century
in 1931. The elections returned a heavily republican majority who favored a reorganization of
the Spanish government. Rather than fighting to keep the constitutional monarchy intact, Alfonso
XIII chose instead to abdicate the Spanish throne and declare Spain a republic in April 1931.
The general elections that followed created a socialist government, which attempted several
Marxist reforms, such as agrarian land redistribution, and also attacked the influence of the
Catholic Church in Spain. This naturally angered the traditional landowners, who along with the
Catholic Church held considerable power within Spain. Industrialists were also angry with the
new government, as the government raised the wages of workers without consulting business
The outrage at the socialist policies of the republican government led to an attempted military
coup in 1932. Though the coup failed, it was indicative of the rising opposition to the left-wing
Spanish government. In the following year, the right-wing party defeated the socialists at the
ballot box, winning an outright majority and almost double the amount of seats the socialists had

won. The right-wing government began dismantling the socialist reforms of the past two years,
only to be defeated by a narrow margin in the 1936 election and see the socialist Popular Front,
led by President Miguel Azaa, reinstitute the same measures.
At this point, generals of the right-wing leaning nationalist army began plotting to overthrow the
Spanish government. Sensing this, the Spanish government began arming left-wing political
organizations out of fear any right-wing revolt would have the support of the bulk of the army.
Civil War
With tension between the two sides at its breaking point, General Emilio Mola declared open
revolt against the socialist government in Navarre in July 1936. Though the attempted immediate
overthrow of the government failed, the revolt was successful in the peripheries of Spain. The
revolt got a huge boost when General Francisco Franco, Commander of the Spanish Army of
Africa, joined the revolt.
The breakout of the Spanish Civil War was seen internationally as an ideological battlefield:
communism and socialism on one side, and nationalism - and increasingly fascism - on the
other. As a result, those sympathetic to the socialist goals of the Popular Front flocked to Spain
and formed the International Brigades. These were battalions and armies made up entirely of
foreigners, including prominent men such as George Orwell, who originally went to Spain as a
Though the nationalists were initially outnumbered and only controlled portions of Spain in the
north and south, its leaders had soon reorganized their forces and added to their numbers
through forced conscription in the territories they controlled. By August, nationalist planes were
routinely bombing the capital, Madrid, and these operations intensified when Nazi Germany
began aiding the nationalist forces in September 1936.
The German Condor Legion, as it was called, provided an auxiliary air force for the Spanish
nationalists and aided in the bombing of Madrid. Other foreign powers with autocratic, nationalist
governments also aided the Spanish nationalists, including Benito Mussolini in Italy and
President Antonio Salazar of Portugal.