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.
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
End of the Monarchy
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 disaster.
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.
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.
Rumblings Grow Louder
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.
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.