and welcome to Spain's Second Republic (1931-1936), the country's final democratic
endeavour prior to the outbreak of Civil War. Before we go on to explore the multiple
difficulties the new government faced, let us dwell for a moment on one of its
most inspiring achievements: the electoral legitimacy by which the republican
dream became a fait accompli. It has been reported in earlier instalments that
repeated attempts to overthrow the country's former regimes inevitably ended in
failure. Ironically, it was this very failure that secured the ultimate ideological
victory, in the sense that the Republic was not imposed on the Spanish people,
but was freely elected by an overwhelming majority of universal male suffrage.
On the day of its proclamation, 14th April, 1931, a leading newspaper, La Voz
de Madrid, eulogized the advent of the Republic with these words: "Spain
[is] the master of her destiny
The new regime has arrived pure and immaculate,
untainted by blood or tears."
The Demise of the Monarchy
may remember from last week that that the first ruling imposed by the new government
was the exile of Alfonso XIII from Spanish Territory. The King's official communiqué
in response to this injunction was pensive and wistful in tone, but also demonstrated
certain myopia in respect to the real political panorama in Spain as well as his
progressive devaluation within that panorama. On 14th April he wrote:
elections held on Sunday clearly reveal to me that I do not have the love of my
people. My conscience tells me that this detour will not be definitive, because
I will always try to serve Spain, my only interest being the public's welfare,
even at the most critical junctures. A King can make mistakes and undoubtedly
I have made my share, but I well know that our Patria was generous before these
faults and bore no malice. I am the King of all Spaniards and am, myself, a Spaniard.
I could find abundant means by which to maintain my royal prerogative in efficient
check against those who challenge me; but, I resolutely refrain from any course
of action that would pit one compatriot against another in fratricidal civil war.
So long as the nation speaks, I will deliberately suspend the exercise
of Royal Power, recognizing [Spain] as the mistress of her destiny.
Despite the King's allegations to the contrary, the
truth is that he would have found it impossible to maintain his position in the
face of his growing unpopularity. One significant point of evidence on this score
is that when Alfonso XIII sounded out General Sanjuro, head of the Guardia Civil,
as to his sentiments, the latter politely offered to escort the royal family to
the French border. The very same day, 14th April, Alfonso XIII vacated the Palacio
Real in Madrid, remaining in exile until his death in 1941.
final observation on the King's farewell message begs for attention. It cannot
be overlooked that, although Alfonso XIII did not know how to guide his country
during its critical transition from obsolete ways to modernity, his concern as
to the possibility of a fratricidal civil war' turned out to be a chilling
prophecy of Spain's imminent fate. The King, though fallen, knew his people well.
It was not
the monarchical figure, however, who would serve as the catalyst for war. A common
enemy often unites un-kindred spirits, and such was the case in Spain at the fall
of the monarchy. Two main currents of thought which had come together in the fight
against Alfonso XIII - but which were, in fact, diametrically opposed - quickly
re-polarized into warring factions as soon as the brunt of their mutual antagonism
was removed. Before the end of 1931, internal conflict, the bane of Spanish political
life, had flared up again. The forces in question were fundamentally those of
leftists against rightists, these terms being defined by the degree of social
change advocated by the wide spectrum of parties that vied for power.
Second Republic lived out its short life amid the quick sands of political change.
Alliances and counter-alliances were made and broken with mercurial speed. Over
the course of five years, some parties migrated from one end of the political
spectrum to the other; while other parties possessed such a curious blend of ideologies
that they occupied several points on the spectrum simultaneously. General Sanjuro,
for example, a seemingly staunch defender of the Republic at its outset, attempted
a coup only 17 months after its inception. More than twenty different political
parties and labour unions comprised the Republic's splintered parliament, though
to explore them in any depth is beyond the scope of this page.
Great Depression Settles Over Spain
What can be said
is that the greatest obstacle to the Republic's success was not, as many imagine,
political instability, but the devastating effects of the worldwide economic crisis.
In his retrospective book, Causes of the War in Spain (1986), Manuel Azaña,
one of the Republic's outstanding figures and twice its president, analyzed the
unfortunate circumstances under which the Republic began its trajectory:
Republic began in the throes of crisis. The paralysis of business, customs barriers,
the restriction of exterior commerce
These were - not the monarchists'
complots nor the anarchists' riots - the formidable difficulties which blocked
the path of the nascent Republic and undermined its success. There is no better
propaganda than prosperity. For a newly instated regime, already battling in the
political terrain, an economic crisis can be mortal. The State had to' intervene'
- if not to find a definitive solution, which was hardly possible while the crisis
reduced the [ world's] most powerful nations - in order to deal with the most
urgent issues. All of the State's interventions in economic conflicts were wrongly
publicized as the advance of a threatening control state."
Next week we will go on to explore
the conflictive agrarian reform, one of the major causes of dissention during
the Republic, as well as the powerful array of right-wing forces that began to
organize against the new government.