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History of Ibiza
by Emily Kaufman

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

Spanish Wars

Hello 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

Readers 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:

"The 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.

One 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.

Unity Unravels

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.

The 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.

The 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:

"The 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.

Emily Kaufman