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History of Ibiza
by Emily Kaufman

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

Spanish Wars

Hello and welcome to the history page. We will pick up the thread of our narrative this week with the aftermath of the October Revolution. Readers will remember from our last instalment that his proletarian revolt stands out as an unmistakable foreshadowing of the civil war that was soon to erupt. Of the many elements common to both events, the three factors most worth of note are, of course, the leadership and victory of General Franco; the extreme ruthlessness of the ‘African Guard’, i.e. the legion of soldiers and officials who had participated in the Moroccan Conflict (1909-1927) and who would later comprise the vanguard of the National offensive in the civil war; and, finally, the ability of the working classes to effectively organize a war effort with the maintenance of supply lines, the provision of medical assistance, etc.

Although successful in suppressing the revolution, the incident left the governing coalition shaken and sharply divided. Members of CEDA advocated the maximum punishment allowable by law against the mutineers: the death penalty for the uprising’s instigators and leaders, solitary confinement for lesser heads and incarceration for all other participants, accomplices and known sympathizers. Lerroux’s Radical Party, on the other hand, was reluctant to add anymore animosity and bloodshed to an already imbrued situation. Even the conservative presidential figurehead, Alcalá Zamora, reminded CEDA of the amnesty recently granted to the conspirators of the 1932 military coup, arguing that the same leniency should now be granted to the Asturian miners.

Moral Considerations

Most of us, sitting comfortably in our homes and enjoying innumerable civil rights which more often than not we take for granted, may ask the question: Why did Spanish workers continually rise up in arms, overriding the legal institutions that existed - albeit tenuously - for their defence. To answer that question, I offer a pertinent quote from Barbara Tuchman’s historical opus, A Distant Mirror. Although writing about the French peasantry in the 13th century, Tuchman’s observations are entirely apropos to the Spanish proletariat in the 20th century - or, for that matter, to any oppressed peoples at any stage of history. Pondering the causes of social upheaval, Tuchman in turn cites the words of Philippe de Beaumanoir who, in 1280-3, wrote: “… there have been acts of violence because the poor will not suffer this [oppression] but know not how to obtain their right except by rising and seizing it for themselves.”

Understanding all too well the plight of Spain’s oppressed, the splintered republican left re-banded under a programme of amnesty for the imprisoned revolutionaries, deeming that whatever debt they owed society for their insurgence, it had already been paid by virtue of the thousands of dead, wounded, lynched and tortured workers struck down by the ‘African Guard’. Naturally, this legion was anxious to conceal from public scrutiny the brutality that had occurred during and after the revolution. To ensure that knowledge of these atrocities would not be disseminated, Luis de Sirval, a journalist who published a candid and incriminating account of the revolution, was killed by one of the legionnaires, effectively terrorizing the press into silence.

Scandal Discredits Lerroux

At the internal level of government, CEDA rose in influence after the revolution, being awarded two more ministerial portfolios in addition to the three they already held. The most important of these was the Ministry of Defence under CEDA party leader, Gil Robles, a great admirer of Franco who wasted no time in appointing the soon-to-be dictator as Field Marshal of the Spanish Army.

The ruling coalition remained in power throughout the following year, but would soon be brought down by a corruption scandal in the Radical Party. In September of 1935, a Dutch businessman, David Strauss, set up a newly-devised type of roulette in San Sebastián and Palma de Majorca. No sooner did the gaming wheels begin to operate, however, than they were closed down. At this, Strauss, who had quietly promised a percentage of the earnings in exchange for his operating license, approached the Republic’s presidential figurehead, Alcalá Zamora, to complain. Having no knowledge of these secret arrangements, Alcalá Zamora began to look into the matter only to discover that the principle accomplices to the extralegal gambling concession were none other than Lerroux (leader of parliament), Lerroux’s son, as well as certain ministers and other high-ranking government officials, all members of the Radical Party.

CEDA Power Ploy Spurned

In view of the scandal, Gil Robles felt sure his hour had come and asked Alcalá Zamora to appoint him as the new leader of parliament - a post he could now execute without the encumbrance of a coalition with Lerroux’s suddenly extinct Radical Party. Much to the minister’s chagrin, Alcalá Zamora declined on his proposal, unconvinced of the former’s trustworthiness. It was rumoured that Gil Robles planned to amend the constitution in such a way as to rescind many of the civil liberties therein guaranteed. Moreover, Gil Robles was known for his indifference to the republican form of government, an ideal which Alcalá Zamora, despite his conservatism, cherished above all else. On these grounds, the republican patriarch passed over Gil Robles in favour of ‘a man of his confidence’, Manuel Portela Valladares. Like his appointer, the chosen statesman had been politically active during the days of the monarchy but had only recently re-entered public life. The primary function of his cameo appearance in republican government was to prepare the general elections that would vote in a new parliament.

Cowardice Discredits Gil Robles

Left to stew in his own juices, Gil Robles toyed with the idea of overthrowing the Republic - or rather having the Republic overthrown for him. To this end he tentatively began to correspond with various generals as to their sentiments on this matter. One of these furtive exchanges, carried out between Gil Robles and General Fanjul (one of Franco’s future collaborators), ran thusly:

“If you give me the order, this very night I will take to the streets of Madrid with the garrisons of the capital. General Varela feels the same as I do.”

Reluctant to assume responsibility for the proposed coup, Gil Robles answered back:

“If the army, grouped around its natural leaders, believes it must seize power in order to save the spirit of the Constitution, I will not put up the slightest obstacle.”

In other words, Gil Robles bounced the ball back into the army’s court, refusing to stand up as the official instigator of the power grab. At this impasse, Franco informed Gil Robles that ideological unanimity within the army was not a given, for which reason, without a clear order issuing from the Ministry of Defence, military cohesion could not be counted on to pull off the coup. Fully aware of the dire implications should this assault on legitimate authority fail, Gil Robles vacillated timorously and was finally pressured into resigning from his post. His unwillingness to give the necessary go-ahead was viewed by many army officials and political rightists, including members of his own party, as a sign of cowardice and his career was effectively extinguished at this juncture.


On 4th January 1936 parliament was dissolved marking the natural death of the Black Biennium. New elections were held on 16th February, the results of which gave a parliamentary majority to the political left, again under the presidency of Manuel Azaña. As soon as the leftist victory became known, in darkest secrecy Franco began to weave the complex web machinations that would overthrow the Republic, this time with no holds barred. Join us next week as the plot thickens.

Emily Kaufman