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History of Ibiza
by Emily Kaufman

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

Spanish Wars

Hello and welcome to the history page. Our examination of Spain’s Second Republic has brought us to the dark moment when, in November of 1933, the country’s extreme right gained a majority of seats in parliament. In view of the fact that numerous factions of the Spanish right were monarchical fascists who publicly debunked the concept of republican government, their presence in parliament was little more than a charade, albeit effective enough in it’s dismantling of the recent liberal reforms. Indeed, as we shall see, the participation of certain reactionary parties (e.g. CEDA and FE de la JONS) in the republican law-making process was undertaken purely as means to ‘undo the damage’ wrought during the Reformist Biennium.

One instance of fascist thought, scathingly expressed by José Antonio Primo de Rivera (son of the former dictator), and defined parliamentary procedure with these words: “that farce of ballots introduced in a glass urn (…) when the noblest fate of any urn is to be broken.” Likewise, José Antonio (habitually referred to by his first name to distinguish him from his father) considered the entire democratic system to be “bureaucratic, hypocritical and inoperative”, and ridiculed politicians for wasting their time “wading through paperwork, spreading electoral propaganda, dozing off in the seats of Congress, adulating voters, tolerating their impertinence only for the sake of their votes; bearing humiliation and vexation from those who, owing precisely to the nearly divine function of governing, should instead obey [the ruler].” Here, at least, was one politician who did not mince his words. José Antonio’s paramilitary activities eventually led to his execution in the early months of the Civil War, after which time he was referred to by his followers as “The Absent One”.

But we are getting ahead of ourselves. Our first task this week is to determine why, after two years of steady progress in the direction of social justice, the liberal factions of the Republic lost the backing of the electorate. For, at this juncture, the government changeover involved no treachery or foul play. The conservatives were voted into office as fairly and squarely as the liberals had been before them.

Azaña’s Downfall

The primary factor in the withdrawal of voter support for Azaña’s liberal coalition (comprised of republicans, socialists and a few communists) was a rash of anarchist insurgence that erupted in the beginning of 1933. As we have observed in pervious instalments, despite the many agrarian reforms instituted at the legislative level, in actual practice, conditions remained as dismal as ever for the great majority of field labourers. Impatient for real change, small groups of anarchists in Catalonia, Levant and Andalusia rose up in protest. One insurrection in particular, ‘The Tragedy of Casas Viejas’ turned large portions of public opinion against Azaña. Obviously, the right wing was already opposed to the Reformist Biennium; it was the increasing opposition from within the ranks of the left wing that delivered the death blow to all that Azaña and his ministers had worked to build up.

Casas Viejas

Casas Viejas was a village in Cadiz, located within a large latifundium. Because the owner of the estate allowed only one third of the arable land to be cultivated, some 500 peasants were reduced to joblessness and hunger season after season. On 11th January 1933, the country folk took matters into their own hands and proclaimed a state of libertarian communism. The takeover was utterly pacifistic and none of the local oligarchy was hurt, outraged, no doubt, but unharmed. Although the mayor surrendered peacefully, the guardia civil refused to accept the situation and telegraphed to the nearest village for reinforcements. It was not until these arrived that the situation became violent. Some of the insurgents fled and others holed up while the guardia civil registered the village, house by house, for arms. In one of the houses lived an aging anarchist who refused to open the door, whereupon an all-night crossfire broke out between the refugees and the law. At dawn, the guardia burnt down the house, killing those who remained inside. The captain of the reinforcement brigade then ordered the execution of fourteen prisoners who had been taken from other houses.

The political implications of Casas Viejas were enormous. Faith in the new regime plummeted as people began to fear that the repressive forces of State were as ruthless as in the days of the monarchy. It was widely felt that, given the small, isolated, almost naïve nature of the uprising, the situation could have been dealt with much less brutality, possibly even without the loss of life. Despite the government’s punitive measures against the officials responsible for the massacre, confidence in the Azaña administration fell steadily over the following months. In September 1933, Azaña was ousted from office and general elections were called for 19th November.

New Parties Coalesce

In the months after the Casas Viejas incident, the Spanish right moved quickly into high gear. During the course of 1933, three new conservative parties were formed, all of which would significantly alter the course of the times, either through direct participation in parliament or, like the Falangist party, through paramilitary activities. It is not my intention to delve too deeply into the political manoeuvrings of the Republic, although a brief rundown of the three new parties is crucial to understanding how the right suddenly gained ascendancy over the left.


Renovación Española was founded in February 1933 by monarchists who advocated the reinstatement of Alfonso XIII. The party’s platform rested on the defence of large landowners (the grandees) as well as the upper spheres of the bourgeoisie that were linked to the Crown. One of its stellar members, José Calvo Sotelo, former Minister of Internal Revenue during the monarchy, had fled the country when the Republic was proclaimed, but returned in 1934 when the new conservative government granted amnesty to all political enemies of the Republic. Although he was a staunch monarchist, Calvo Sotelo also sympathized with the fascist movement, both within Spain and abroad. His assassination in July 1936 marked the start of the Civil War.


Far and away, the most influential party in the Black Biennium was CEDA (Spanish Confederation of Autonomous Rightists). Founded in March 1933, its leader, José María Gil Robles, was the lawyer of the Jesuit order, a job he eventually combined with his post as Minister of War (1935-36). CEDA operated in conjunction with the Catholic newspaper, El Debate, for which reason its propaganda base reached broad sectors of the population. Gil Robles was basically unconcerned with whether the Spanish government assumed the form of a monarchy or a republic. What mattered to him was that the interests of the Church, and the traditional morals which it upheld, should be safeguarded against the progressive secularization of State. This ‘political non-definition’ enabled CEDA to capture votes from numerous quarters, including monarchists, landowners and the common man.


The fascists of Spain organized under the banner of the Falangist party, founded by José Antonio in October 1933. We have already divulged a few titbits of his ideological doctrine, to which we can add that he did not, in fact, believe in political parties at all as he felt them to be “just a lot of liberal talk”. Instead, he upheld “natural units, the family, the, the municipality, and the [labour] corporation”. Opposed as equally to capitalism as he was to socialism and Marxism (which he dismissed as too international), his great ideal was national-syndicalism, a system whereby all antagonistic interests within society would be mediated by a paternalist government. Like Mussolini’s Italy and Hitler’s Germany, José Antonio advocated a highly centralized State, governed by a single leader, and based on the principles of authority, discipline and strict social hierarchy, in a word: totalitarianism.

The Falangist party was made up primarily of students from the most conservative ranks of the urban middle-class. Like the brown-shirts in Germany and the black-shirts in Italy, Spanish Falangists banded into paramilitary assault groups, and wore blue shirts when patrolling the streets. Another common ground shared with German Nazism and Italian Fascism was a reductionist view of history in which the authority of State rested on past splendour. José Antonio held Castile to be the crown of Spanish civilization, culture and language, and, like his father before him, rejected any type of autonomy (cultural, political, linguistic or otherwise) on the part of the peripheral regions despite his own - Andalusian origin.


Although we could go on forever analyzing the fascist movements of the 1930s, we will bring our instalment to a close for today. Join us next week as we go on to explore the popular backlash against the new government’s policies, manifested most clearly in the Revolution of October (1934). Until then, have a good week.

Emily Kaufman