and welcome back to contemporary Spanish history. Our narrative has brought us
to the end of Primo de Rivera's dictatorship, which, despite its achievements
in the realms of social stability, economic growth and modernization, incurred
the wrath of several sectors of society, most notably, the intelligentsia, Catalan
activists and certain factions within the army.
In the midst
of mounting opposition, compounded by personal health problems, Primo de Rivera
was forced to confront the failure of his regime. One telling incident of the
low esteem in which his government came to be held occurred in the critical year
of 1929. The dictator, realizing the extent to which he had alienated certain
political factions from the governing forum - and, more importantly, the power
that these fringe groups now wielded over public opinion offered five seats
in the National Assembly to representatives from UGT (Unión General de
Trabajadores, a labour union founded in 1888 and today boasting nearly one million
members). Far from jumping at the offer, UGT categorically refused to participate
in a government that provided such a limited scope of action.
political episode that demonstrates the regime's unpopularity transpired in Valencia,
also in the bleak year of 1929. In a failed coup, Sanchez Guerra, a dynastic liberal,
endeavoured to reinstate the former parliamentary system under the monarchical
figurehead of Alfonso XIII. Owing to the increasing unpopularity of the king,
as well as to the Spain's reluctance to return to a system that had consistently
proved ineffective, the movement failed to rally enough support. Nonetheless,
this incident served as the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back. Primo
de Rivera's characteristic reaction to such power ploys had always been to squelch
the adversary, quickly and harshly. However, it now became clear to the dictator
that his rule had lost the backing of the people.
conflict could come to a head, Primo de Rivera simply stepped down from power.
He handed his demission to the king in 1929 along with a proposal for a substitute
government consisting of an Assembly of 250 senators and 250 congressmen. Alfonso
XIII, ineffectual as ever, asked for time to think the situation over. While he
was thinking, the same old problems that seemed to have disappeared during the
dictatorship flared up with a vengeance: social unrest, strikes and military conspiracies.
In January 1930, Alfonso XIII finally accepted Primo de Rivera's demission, and
the ailing dictator fled the country, dying soon afterwards in Paris.
End of the Monarchy
Alfonso XIII was now left with
the dual task of piecing together a new government and saving the monarchy from
an ignominious end. He was unsuccessful on both counts. His first action was to
reinstitute the old parliamentary system, appointing the discredited General Berenguer
to preside over it. This choice of leadership could not have been more inappropriate.
Berenguer had been one of the generals responsible for Spain's most crushing defeat
during its war with Morocco (1909-1927). In fact, the Spanish public was so outraged
by the Disaster of Annual' - where, in 1921 an entire garrison of 6,000
men was massacred by Riff nationalists - that an official investigation, known
as the Picasso File, was commissioned. The report was never seen as Primo de Rivera
came to power soon afterwards and declared amnesty for all those involved in the
On the other hand - if I am allowed a moment
of digression - one of the dictator's more positive accomplishments (one we have
not yet mentioned) was his ability to bring this long and costly conflict to a
successful conclusion. The Moroccan issue had long been a source of contention
during the years we have reviewed in this series, but I touched only superficially
on it, for a number of reasons: firstly, because European imperial pretensions
have become rather indefensible in this day and age, and secondly because, with
Islamic nationalism again on the rise, the territory and accompanying issues involved
seemed too hot to handle. Now the subject has been broached, I might as well make
the point that Spain's sustained military action during these two decades explains
the prominent role of its Generals in political life and the frequency of armed
uprisings within the domestic sphere.
At any rate, getting
back to Berenguer, to choose such a person as the chief of state was indeed a
grave error. On either side of the political fence, the monarchy had gradually
been losing supporters over the years. Those who were opposed Primo de Rivera
resented the king for enabling the dictatorship in the first place; while, those
who supported Primo de Rivera resented the king for the glib way in which he disposed
of a man who, in fact, had done much to protect the monarchy from recriminations
during the Disaster of Annual'. It was under these unpromising circumstances,
that the resuscitated parliamentary monarchy lurched and wobbled into motion again.
Republican Rumblings Grow Louder
August of 1930, Spain's republican opposition had confederated in the Pact of
San Sebastian, a political coalition formed by representatives from the country's
various republican parties and including intellectuals, Catalan activists, socialists
and some liberal-minded members of the bourgeoisie. In the course of the San Sebastian
meetings, the ideological co-ordinates that would guide the nascent republic were
established. One important result of the talks was the agreement that Catalonia
be granted a Statute of Autonomy once the republic was proclaimed. Another key
realization was the need to enlist the participation of the most important labour
unions (e.g. PSOE and the now extinct CNT) in the movement so as to win the support
of the working classes. Thus was born a parallel and considerably more radial
anti-monarchical organism, the Revolutionary Committee, presided over by Niceto
Alcalá Zamora. This committee also had a representative branch within the
army, headed by General Gonzalo Queipo de Llano, who, coincidentally, was the
father of Alcalá Zamora's son-in-law.
By the end
of the year, rapid strides in organization and a high level of coordination among
the three branches of the movement had produced an overly confident feeling that
the time was right to seize power. On 12th December 1930, an attempted coup was
led by Captain Fermín Galán. In Jaca, in the north of Spain, Galán
proclaimed the Second Republic (there had been a very brief one in 1873) and proceeded
to march his troops to Huesca. En route, he was captured by government forces,
condemned to death and executed two days later. Refusing to be thwarted in their
quest for freedom, a second coup was staged the very next day, 15th December,
in Madrid. This time the military uprising was led by Queipo de Llano himself
and was seconded at the civilian level by means of a nation-wide strike. Interestingly,
one of the participating generals in this republican conspiracy was Ramón
Franco, brother of the future superlative General. On that curious note, I shall
leave you all until next week. What happened in Madrid that cold December day?
Give us a read next time for the answer!
a quick note to mention that a fascinating archaeological find was accidentally
uncovered last week in Ibiza Town. In the course of construction, a local work
crew came across several ancient tombs as well as the base of a column, buried
not far below street level. The first informed assessment of these ruins dates
them back to Roman times and speculates that they could have been part of a necropolis.
It has also been hypothesized that the column base may have belonged to a hitherto
undiscovered forum existing somewhere in the walled city. Naturally, as more information
becomes available on this exciting find - and assuming we've finished with the
Spanish Civil War! - you can read about it right here at LiveIbiza.