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History of Ibiza
by Emily Kaufman

The Spanish Civil War (1936-1939)
An Overview: XIII

Spanish Wars

Hello and thank you for joining us as we carry on with our examination of the sweeping social and political reforms instituted during the first two years of the Second Republic. This week we will study the attempts made by the Azaña administration at curtailing the excessive power of Army and Church within the Spanish state. Over the centuries, both of these organizations had come to wield a disproportionate share of influence in the running of internal affairs and in the very texture and fabric of daily existence. The Reformist government was quick to implement a series of measures designed to bring these institutions in line with their constitutionally delimited purpose in society (i.e. national defence in the case of the Army and spiritual ministration in the case of the Church), thus securing the running of state to the offices of a civilian and secular government.

Azaña’s Leadership in Government

Before starting on the actual reforms, I would like to insert a short biographical note on Manuel Azaña y Diaz whom we have previously mentioned as one of the leading intellectual and political figures of the Second Republic. This week’s topic in particular highlights his personal contribution to government policy; for, not only did Azaña possess first-hand knowledge of both military and ecclesiastic matters, his lofty standing within the Republic put him in a position to effectively act on this knowledge. As regards his cognizance of military matters, his years as a World! War I press correspondent had prepared him well for his subsequent appointment as Minister of War, a portfolio he combined with the presidency of the executive cabinet throughout the Reformist Biennium. As regards his acquaintance with ecclesiastic matters, it was not the study of theology per se, but rather his experiences as a young boarding student at the monastery of El Escorial, near Madrid, which made him, reject the values and methodology of parochial education. Let us first turn our attention to his restructuring of the armed forces.

The Army within Spanish Society

To fully understand the situation of the Spanish Army at the time of the Republic, we must backtrack to the black year of 1898 and Spain’s defeat in the Spanish American War. At this critical juncture, two factors that would have long-term consequences for Spanish society came into play. Firstly, Spain lost two of its few remaining colonies, Cuba and the Philippines, to the United States. As mentioned in earlier instalments, the resulting decline in international status cut a deep wound into the Spanish psyche. Naturally, the injury was felt most acutely in military circles, whose leaders (perhaps correctly) blamed the inefficiency of the civilian government for their defeat.

The second factor that began to shape Spanish society at this time came as the inevitable sequitur to the loss of colonial territory, that is, large contingents of overseas military staff, suddenly deprived of their colonial assignations, were channelled back into Spanish territory. Most concretely, the return of numerous lieutenants and viceroys resulted in a surplus of high-ranking army officials with no suitable positions available to them. For better or for worse, this condition was mitigated somewhat during Primo de Rivera’s dictatorship when members of the military were assigned to previously civilian posts. The long colonial conflict with Morocco (1909-1927) also helped to take up much of the slack in personnel.

Indeed, ever since the mid 19th century, the Spanish Army had been playing the role of arbitrator in the country’s frequent political changeovers, often ushering in governments that were presided by generals rather than statesmen. The Army also assumed the function of urban law enforcement during the years of social unrest that plagued Spain more or less continuously in the early 1900s. It was in the year 1905, however, when the military’s sphere of influence blatantly spilled over into the public domain. After a press scandal in which the Army was used as the brunt of a political satire, the military hierarchy was granted the power to impose its own jurisdiction in non-military affairs. Under the new law, the infamous Ley de Jurisdicciones, military courts were authorized to try cases in which the honour of the Army was seen to be in any way jeopardized.

Army Downsized

In order to restore a healthy balance of power between civilian and military matters, Azaña instituted a series of measures that both streamlined and modernized the internal organization of the Army. His first move was to reduce the number of military divisions from sixteen to eight, with each division falling under the authority of one general. In order to eliminate the excess of redundant officers, Azaña devised a voluntary withdrawal plan whereby those generals and officials who opted for early retirement would continue to receive the same monthly stipend as they had while in active service.

Azaña’s next move was to ensure that an inflated sense of military empowerment did not encroach upon civil authority. To this end he abolished the aforementioned ‘Law of Jurisdictions’ and its corresponding ‘Supreme Court of the Army and the Armada’, stipulating that any case involving the conflict of civilian and military interests would henceforth be tried in common law courts. Another measure designed to eliminate the potential overlapping of civil and military powers was to abolish the rank of Captain General. This position represented the maximum echelon within the armed forces, equivalent to the rank of viceroy in the old colonial order, and therefore carrying with it the prerogative to assume the control of state in given circumstances.

Finally, Azaña’s intention of revising Primo de Rivera’s policy of military promotions was met with considerable hostility. The former dictator had established the basis of ascension strictly on battle merits rather than on seniority. It was during this time, incidentally, that Francisco Franco, a combatant in the Moroccan conflict, was promoted to the rank of general. His fighting prowess notwithstanding, the soon-to-be superlative general was not particularly outstanding as far as the application of intellect was concerned, having graduated from his military academy in the bottom sixth of his class. It was little wonder, then, that he and his cronies could not appreciate the social value of the reforms enacted by one as intellectually gifted as Azaña. As one straight-talking political analyst put it:

“In reality, [the military] did not want to recognize the supremacy of civil power. In many cases (Sanjuro, Goded, Franco, Mola, Queipo de Llano, among others) their hatred of Azaña derived in part from personal resentment over certain decisions they considered contrary to their particular interests, above all destitutions and changes in post. All of this fit in with the Army’s aversion to the republican social reforms and the decentralization of state, which, in their opinion, endangered the unity of the patria.”


It is clear that a lethal cocktail of personal animosities had begun to brew within the military elite. Each attempt on Azaña’s part to demilitarize society only served to strengthen the sentiment of hatred against him, a force which eventually destroyed his government and forced him into exile. Give us a read next week as we go on to explore another massive block of anti-republican resistance: The Church.

Emily Kaufman