Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) and the historical significance of April 14th

Today- April 14th 2014- is an important day in the fight against fascism. But one that won't be widely publicized in the mainstream corporate press anywhere, perhaps with the exception of Spain.

On April 14th 1931, the Second Spanish Republic was proclaimed, after the Spanish people voted overwhelmingly for a leftist Government, only the second time in their history that the Spanish people had been able to vote for their Government. 

(the photo shows crowds in Madrid on the proclamation of the Second Republic in 1931)

The Second Spanish Republic, only the second ever elected Government of Spain (a Republican-Socialist Government), lasted until its dissolution in 1939, when the forces of the fascist right, led by General Franco won victory in the Spanish Civil War

The Second Republic came about after parties of the left won the 1931 election on the basis of a reform agenda, which included the establishment of a Republic and proposals for serious economic and political reform, including dismantling the structures of privilege in Spanish society, implementing a new Constitution, land reforms, anti-militarist policies, the vote for women, separation of Church and State and removal of the power of the Monarchy.

The Government of the Second Republic faced serious internal economic and political instability, particularly from the right, including the Church, parts of the military and wealthy Spaniards who supported the monarchy and the Spanish nobility, but also from sections of the left who believed the reforms did not go far enough.

As a result of the internal political tensions and the economic fallout from the Great Depression, Spain experienced a series of profound political upheavals, economic crises and intense instability which resulted in strikes, uprisings, armed insurrections, increasing violence and political killings, as groups fragmented on both right and left.

In 1936, the Spanish Civil War began after a group of Spanish military officers led by General  Francisco Franco, and with the support of right wing, conservative and fascist groups, attempted a military coup against a reformist Government, that was met with armed resistance. The Spanish Civil War war lasted until 1939 when Republican forces finally surrendered to Franco's forces.

General Franco and his forces were backed politically, militarily and economically by Nazi Germany and Mussolini's Italy, whose intervention was critical in determining the final outcome of the war. The Spanish Civil War provided Nazi Germany with the opportunity to develop and test their military power and military strategies in preparation for the larger European conflict that erupted in 1939. Republican forces received some support from the Soviet Union and particularly from volunteers fighting in the International Brigades.

In her book The War and its Shadow: Spain's Civil War in Europe's Long Twentieth Century, Helen Graham notes that Franco's forces:
... authorized and presided over an extermination of those sectors associated with Republican change – especially those who symbolized cultural change and thus posed a threat to old ways of being and thinking: progressive teachers, self-educated workers, ‘new’ women. In the Republican zone, resistance to the coup also led to the murder of civilians. This extrajudicial and communal killing in both zones would fundamentally make new political and cultural meanings that changed Spain’s political landscape forever.
At the completion of the war in 1939, Franco established an autocratic dictatorship with himself as head of State and Government. He defined Spain as a totalitarian state with one legal political party, a merger of the monarchist and fascist parties that had supported him during the war.

Although hostilities ended in early 1939, Franco continued to wage war against the defeated Republicans, who he labeled as "red" and the "enemy within"(despite their social, political and religious diversity).

But why did the election of the Second Republic and the Spanish Civil War unleash such horrific bloodletting and terrible atrocities during and after the war?

In his book The Spanish Holocaust Inquest and Extermination in Twentieth Century Spain, Paul Preston documents the prejudice that led Spain's reactionary right into their bloodletting.  Preston argues that among Franco's forces and the reactionary and fascist right there was absolute, and often paranoid, conviction that the Republican enemy was evil. 

In his review of Preston's book Giles Tremlett writes:
Democrats, reds, Jews, freemasons, Marxists, Muslims, "free" women, trade unionists, socialists, socially concerned priests and social liberals were, simply because of their beliefs, considered to be guilty of crimes against the fatherland, God and the natural social order.
In his harrowing book Paul Preston uses the word holocaust to describe what took place in Spain during and after the Spanish Civil War, comparing it with the mass killings that occurred in the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany.

Preston exposes the murders and cruelty of both sides. He argues that under Franco's command, murder and terror were official policy, whereas in Republican areas, with some glaring exceptions, it was more often the result of chaos, fear, ignorant hatred, criminal thuggery and anarchy. 

After the war, there were harsh reprisals by the Franco Government against anyone suspected of sympathy with and involvement in the Second Republic and Republican forces. Estimates are that Franco Government was responsible for between 50,000 and 2000,00 deaths including 30,000 executed. Thousands of Republicans were imprisoned and put into forced labour camps and forced into prison type work such as building railways, drying out swamps and digging canals.

Hundreds of thousands of Republicans fled abroad, with some 500,000 fleeing to France

The Government in exile of the second Republic survived as an embassy in Mexico till 1976. General Franco ruled Spain until his death in 1975.  

The events of 1931 and the war of 1936-1939 continue to have profound contemporary resonance in Spain. 

Recent protests in Spain against the social and economic dislocation and devastation resulting from neoliberal and market fundamentalist polices and imposed austerity regimes, evoke the spirit of the Second Republic. 

And families and communities are reclaiming the remains and the memories of family members, loved ones and others who died during and after the Spanish Civil War, as evidenced in events like this one, where family members of Republican political prisoners who died in prisons and labour camps are gathering their relatives' remains to give them a proper burial.

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