The Spanish Civil war took place between 1936 and1939.
It was a tumultuous period of great violence and political unrest inSpain where the Nationalists and the Republicans fought for political controlof the country. The Spanish civil war caused a complete upheaval of Spanishpolitics and culture. As historian Antony Beevor argues, “That past is indeed’another country’. Spain itself has changed completely in a matter of decades.”1Evidently, there are both “long term structural origins and immediate politicalcauses” of the Spanish Civil War.2The beginning of the Spanish Civil War can be greatly linked to the generaldisenchantment with the Spanish governments in the years leading up to the warand may also be attributed to the tendency of the people towards violence as asolution to societal issues.
3Both the regime of General Primo de Rivera and the administration of theRepublic were great examples of the failures of the government in Spain. Primode Rivera was unable to fulfil his promises to better the country and theRepublic can be seen as a failure of democracy. The people of Spain had been dissatisfied with theperformance of their political leaders and the rule of the monarchy prior tothe civil war.
When Primo de Rivera became leader of Spain he promised toimprove every aspect of life in Spain. “The Dictatorship of Primo de Riveracame in on a wave of good wishes and optimism.”4Primo de Rivera made great promises to improve the Spanish economy which was awelcome change to those who struggled under the ineffective regime of theprevious government. Primo de Rivera’s rise to power was seen as a positivedevelopment for Spain. He established public work schemes, improvedcommunications, modernised Spanish industry, and, overall, Primo de Riveraaimed to make the Spanish economy more prosperous.5However, this “golden age” of the Spanish economy was not a long term solution.By 1930, almost every sector of the Spanish economy was dissatisfied with Primode Rivera’s leadership and the outcomes of his reforms. His schemes werewell-intentioned but poorly planned.
His administration led to a seriousdecrease in the value, and eventual collapse, of the peseta, his land reformshugely displeased landowners who did not appreciate having legal obligations topay their workers a certain amount or standards for working conditions. As PaulPreston simply put it, “by 1930 there was hardly a section of Spanish societythat Primo de Rivera had not offended.”6This disenchantment with their leader led the people of Spain to look for analternative form of leadership. However, this dissatisfaction with Spain’sleadership ignited anger among the Spanish people with their government. The reign of Primo de Rivera led the people of Spainto turn to an alternative form of government. They looked towards democracy togive the country a new lease of life. However the administration of the SecondRepublic was not welcomed by the upper class, who saw the government’s movementfor social reform as a threat to their position in society. The Second Republicpromoted very left wing ideas of socialism and class equality.
The wealthylandowners, who previously had great control over politics in Spain wereunhappy with this shift in political alignment. “The establishment of theRepublic meant that for the first time political power had passed from theoligarchy to the moderate left”.7The Republic had to recover from the economic failings of Primo de Riverawhilst simultaneously bringing in new political and social reforms, whichproved very difficult for the new government. The Republic attempted to find away to satisfy the needs of all of Spain, however there was no way for them tobring in reforms without upsetting some section of society.
They wanted to improvethe lives of land workers (braceros and jounaleros)8,to create a secular state, reorganise the army, appease the wishes of theworking class, and to improve schools. However, many of these changes facedgreat opposition. There was no way for the Republic to satisfy one groupwithout frustrating another. “Las reformas políticas de la República satisfacían a losburgueses liberales, interesaban poco a los proletarios, enemistaban con laRepública a la burguesía conservadora. Las reformas sociales, por moderadas quefuesen, irritaban a los capitalistas. Las realizaciones principales de laRepública (reforma agraria, separación de la Iglesia y el Estado, ley dedivorcio, autonomía de Cataluña, disminución de la oficialidad en el ejército,etcétera), suscitaron, como es normal, gran oposición. También fue rudamentecombatida la fundación de millares de escuelas y de un centenar deestablecimientos de segunda enseñanza, porque la instrucción era neutra en loreligioso.
“9The SecondRepublics hopes of creating a better Spain were hugely unsuccessful due to thefact that they stretched themselves too thin in trying to solve all of Spain’sissues at once. “The Republic was attempting to carry out a process ofpolitical reform in a few years, which had taken anything up to a centuryelsewhere.”10 The mostcrucial aspect of this argument is that the Spanish public had becomecompletely disenchanted with its unsatisfactory governing system.
The peoplewere discontented with the regime of Primo de Rivera and that of the Second Republic.They saw no solution to the never-ending cycle of poor leaders other than anoutbreak of violence. Those who viewed the Republic’s regime as ineffective andwho were unhappy with their rule decided that they needed to take action to ridSpain of its leaders, however those who supported the Republic and weresatisfied with the developments they had made since the resignation of Primo deRivera opposed them.
This conflict of opinion caused an outbreak of violencewhich developed into the Spanish Civil War. Of course,many historians claim that the people of Spain believed that violence was theonly solution. Historically, the Spanish public always took up arms in order tosolve their social and political problems. Revolution and strikes had alwaysbeen used to solve conflict and disagreements.
Essentially, Spain did not havethe tradition of solving problems peacefully or politically, instead “the civilwar was the result of ancestral hatreds in a country with a historical identityand destiny very prone to ‘fraternal’ violence.”11 Whendivisions occurred in Spanish society, the public viewed bloodshed as the mosteffective solution: the Reconquistaof Spain from the Moors was successful due to the use of violence, the SpanishInquisition used violence to rid the country of Jews and other non-Catholics,the comuneros used violence todethrone Emperor Charles V.12 One can clearly see from this how the peopleof Spain may have thought that violence was the only solution to theirproblems. When divisions arose in society extreme force had always been used toend it. Spain in the years leading up to the Civil War had been very divided inmany ways: political allegiance, class divides, and social differences allcreated conflict within the Spanish population and, in turn, led them to hatetheir governments. This incompatibility eventually led to the outbreak ofviolence which became the Civil War. The Second Republic, which was largelyunpopular amongst the people faced great opposition from workers, in 1934 theUGT (Unión General de Trabajadores) and the CNT (Confederación Nacional delTrabajo) organised strikes and risings tocontest the government, for example the general strike in Saragossa in March193413,and the miners’ strike in Asturias, October 1934, which is often considered”the first battle of the civil war”14 However, the military coup d’état of July1936 really marked the beginning of the Civil War. The intervention of theSpanish military marked a turning point in Spanish history.
Without this martialinvolvement, the people may have just continued with their small risings andthe conflicts might not have developed into all-out war. “Butfor this uprising, there would not have been a Civil War. Other things wouldhave happened, but certainly not this war of extermination. It was, therefore,the coup d’état that buried political solutions and gave way to armed measures.And this counter- revolutionary coup d’état, whose intention was to halt analleged revolution, finally ended up unleashing one. Once the wheels of this militaryuprising and revolutionary response had started turning, it was only arms thathad the right to speak.
“15 The members of the army felt a responsibility to”intervene in politics to defend both the social order and the territorialintegrity of Spain.”16Military leaders gathered to organise a coup which would overthrow the Spanishgovernment and allow them to take control. The leaders spread across Spain andits colonies to quickly and efficiently carry out the coup. This well plannedarmed rising signalled the beginning of a nationwide battle and ultimatelybegan the Civil War. The people of Spain took the military’s involvement as acue to step in and begin fighting. The rising became increasingly violentespecially in rural areas.
This initial rising grew as time went on anddeveloped into full-scale warfare. With all hope of finding a politicalsolution to Spain’s problems, the people again, turned to violence as theirsolution. The Spanish Civil War was in many ways a tragic periodfor all of Spain. It changed the course of Spanish politics and changed thepeople of Spain.
The most crucial theories regarding the underlying causes ofthis Civil War are that the outbreak of said war essentially was caused by alack of efficient political leaders and a history of using violence to solvesocieties problems. The reigns of Primo de Rivera and the Second Republic werecompletely unsatisfactory. Neither government was able to solve Spain’sproblems and, ultimately, they created more. The failings of these governmentscaused mass disenchantment among the people. Without a doubt, the poorgovernmental systems that were in place in Spain were a key element in thebeginning of the Spanish Civil War. Had there been a popular, or a successfulleader in place, there may have not been a war at all. The administrations ofboth Primo de Rivera and the Second Republic showed the people of Spain thatthey needed to take drastic measures in order to solve their political issues.
Their solution: war. The country’shistory of violence also greatly contributed to the outbreak of the war. Unlikeother nations, Spain had always used physical means to end disputes. They didnot see the merit of peacefully coming to a compromise. Instead they took arms againsteach other in order to discover whose side would prevail over the other. Thistendency towards violence made civil war inevitable when there was such adivide in the Spanish people’s views. Without a model of non-violent strategiesfor conflict resolution, the Spanish people had no way to approach solvingtheir differences without resorting to violence. To summarise, out of the manyprominent causes of the Spanish Civil War, it is evident that a lack ofpolitical structures which satisfied the people and a history of violence ledthe people of Spain to resort to war as a solution.
The culmination of thesetwo factors could lead to nothing other than the Spanish Civil War. Bibliography Azaña, M., 1986. Causas de la Guerra de España.
Barcelona: Crítica. Beevor, A., 2012. The Battle for Spain: The Spanish Civil War 1936 – 1939. London: Phoenix, Google Books version. Brenan, G.
, 1960. The Spanish Labyrinth. London: The Syndics of the Cambridge University Press. Casanova, J.
, 2017. Republic, Civil War and Dictatorship: The Peculiararities of Spanish History. Journal od Contemporary History, 52(1). Preston, P., 1996. A Concice History of te Spanish CIvil War. London: Fontana Press. 1 Beevor, A.
(2012), ‘The Battle for Spain: The Spanish Civil War1936 – 1939′ e-book, London:Phoenix.2 Preston, P. (1996),’A Concise History of The Spanish CivilWar’, London:Fontana Press pg. 9.3 Casanova, J. (2017)’Republic, Civil War and Dictatorship: The Peculiarities of Spanish History’, Journal of Contemporary History, Vol.
52, Issue 1.4 Brenan, G. (1960) ‘The Spanish Labyrinth’, London: TheSyndics of the Cambridge University Press.5 (Preston, 1996), pg.20.6 (Preston, 1996), pg.21.7 (Preston, 1996), pg25.
8 (Preston,1996)9 Azaña, M. (1986) ‘Causas de la Guerra de España’, Barcelona: Crítica, pg. 13,14.10 (Beevor,2012)11 (Casanova,2017)12 (Beevor,2012)13 (Brenan,1960)14 (Brenan,1960)15 (Casanova, 2017)16 (Preston, 1996)pg.68