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Spain's convulsions during the 1930s, which swiftly carried the country from democracy to revolution to civil war, made it a center of the world's attention. In 1931, it had been the only European country to introduce a new democratic regime during the Depression decade, a time when half the states of Europe turned to one or another form of authoritarianism. A foreign visitor observing the popular jubilation in April 1931 would have found it hard to believe that the new regime would break down into the most bitter civil war within scarcely more than five years.
In retrospect, the democratic breakthrough had been made possible by the accelerated economic growth and modernization Spain experienced between World War I and 1930, during some of these years one of the highest growth rates in the world. Such social, economic, and cultural transformation within a brief period was unprecedented in the long history of Spain, as for the first time the agricultural proportion of the active population dipped under 50 percent. This accelerated growth did not, however, succeed in turning Spain into a developed modern society, but advanced it only to the middle of the road-the most dangerous place. By 1931 it had triggered a revolution of rising expectations. The widespread confidence that rapid social and economic improvement would continue indefinitely was unrealistic in the midst of the Great Depression, and its political consequences would be explosive.
Democracy may produce as many new problems as it solves, and by 1934 it became clear that the new regime had opened the way to a revolutionary process unparalleled elsewhere. A classic theory posits that revolutionary growth is the product not of extreme oppression but of relatively rapid improvement in conditions in countries where notable internal problems are followed by a downturn or significant new frustrations, which stimulate a revolutionary response. Spain was unique in harboring the world's only mass anarcho-syndicalist movement, a large Socialist party which turned increasingly to what it called bolchevización (Bolshevization), a small Communist party (PCE) operated by the Comintern, a tiny opposed "Leninist" communist party (BOC-POUM), and a variety of radical separatist movements. Three revolutionary insurrections by the anarchosyndicalists between January 1932 and December 1933 were punctuated by an abortive rightist military revolt in 1932. A major Socialist revolutionary insurrection in October 1934 ignited increasingly intense left-right polarization. Having failed at insurrection, the left returned to electoral tactics, and the new Popular Front alliance won a narrow but decisive victory in the elections of February 1936.
During the next five months there developed what Gabriel Jackson and some other historians have called a "pre-revolutionary situation," a breakdown of order and constitutional government without precedent in a European country in peacetime. The Spanish crisis featured widespread strikes, some of them in support of impossible demands; considerable destruction and burning of churches and other property; extensive illegal seizure of farmland, legitimized ex post facto by an intimidated government; the takeover of church and other property; the arbitrary closure of Catholic schools; the politicization of the courts; and progressive distortion of the electoral process and falsification of results. Members of Popular Front parties engaged in criminal behavior with relative impunity, and the smaller rightist organizations were progressively declared illegal. Political violence spread, and the government sometimes appointed Socialist and Communist militants as auxiliary police. The kidnapping and murder of the government's most outspoken opponent in parliament by one of these mixed detachments served as the final catalyst for a widespread military revolt, supported by rightist volunteers, on 18 July 1936.
The Spanish Civil War
The civil war that ensued became probably the most mythic event of the twentieth century, most frequently, if inaccurately, described as a contest between democracy and fascism. More than a little fascism was involved, but there was no real democracy on either side. The rebellion was designed as an exclusively military affair to remove the left from power and convert the existing regime into a very right-wing republic, in which democracy would be severely curtailed. The military, however, were almost as divided as the rest of Spanish society. Instead of being able to carry out a coup d'état, they ended up in control of little more than half of the country's army, a third of the air force, and a third of the navy, and in possession of scarcely as much as a third of Spain. These were conditions for full-scale civil war, and yet the rebels at first held such limited strength that they might soon have been defeated had they not been able to obtain limited military support from Italy and Germany.
The minority left Republican government resorted to arming the leftist worker organizations, which they called "arming the people." The revolutionary militias created by these organizations proved ineffective militarily but they produced an explosive popular revolution with few precedents in world history. Thus it is somewhat surprising that the Spanish revolution of 1936-39 is sometimes all but ignored in the comparative history of twentieth-century revolutions, for three reasons: (a) the Spanish revolution was soon completely defeated, and history prefers winners; (b) both Republicans and the Comintern denied the reality of revolution in order to avoid alienating opinion in the capitalist Western democracies; and (c) nearly all the major left-collectivist revolutions of the century were largely one-party Communist revolutions, whereas the Spanish revolution was semi-pluralist, the largest revolutionary movements being anarchosyndicalist and Socialist, not Communist.
Conversely, the extreme revolutionary left championed their cause as the most direct and spontaneous worker revolution yet seen, distinctly more so than that of Russia in 1917, which was soon dominated by a single party, was supported by a much smaller proportion of workers, and mobilized proportionately much less of the rural population in new revolutionary institutions. To the Marxist sector of the extreme revolutionary left, it was the most Marxist revolution, more broadly borne by genuine workers, and all the extreme revolutionary left hailed their revolution as the beginning of a new era in world history.
The problem was that while the one-party regime in Russia had eventually proved quite effective in waging a fierce civil war, what one historian calls the "revolutionary Republican confederation" in Spain proved too disorganized to be effective. Therefore on 5 September 1936 the first all-Popular Front government, representing all the revolutionary groups except the anarcho-syndicalists, took office under the Socialist leader Francisco Largo Caballero. Its task was to restore an effective government and to organize a new disciplined "ejército popular" (people's army) to wage the civil war.
The new government hoped for support from democratic Britain and France, but much foreign opinion was alienated by the widespread destruction and the revolutionary terror, which killed approximately 55,000 people (most of them between July and December 1936), one of the great slaughters of the century-though equaled or exceeded by that carried out by its rightist opponents-which was extensively covered in the foreign press.
The British government, dominated by Conservatives, quickly adopted a hands-off policy, which it maintained throughout the conflict. The situation of its ally in Paris was different, for a Popular Front coalition, more moderate than that of Spain, had recently taken office in France. There, however, conservative opinion was soon intensely mobilized and polarized by the Spanish conflict. Léon Blum, the French Socialist prime minister, wished to support the Spanish left, at least with military equipment, but was vetoed by his British associates and even his own government coalition, as well as by all the conservative parties.
The initial shipment of French military equipment was therefore soon canceled, and the French government instead began to promote agreement among all the European powers on nonintervention in the Spanish war. The nonintervention policy was intended to discourage German and Italian support for the Spanish rebels, and thus permit the left to win the military struggle. In September an official nonintervention committee began to meet in London, as it would continue to do throughout the war, with all three of the major dictatorships-Germany, Italy, and the Soviet Union -participating, while proceeding almost unhindered in their own military intervention. The British government professed indifference to the outcome of the struggle, so long as Spain remained independent and the war did not expand into a general European conflict. The goals of British policy were thus largely achieved by the time the war ended in 1939.
The real French policy was considerably different, consisting of what Blum later described as "relaxed nonintervention," meaning extensive forms of assistance to the Republic short of direct sales of military equipment. This policy took the form of providing extensive financial and commercial facilities, serving as a conduit for the volunteers of the International Brigades and of large-scale transshipment of Soviet and other military matériel and for other secondary forms of aid. At least twice the French government and general staff considered the possibility of limited direct military intervention, but on each occasion decided against it.
The only major power to intervene actively on the Republican side was the Soviet Union, whose leaders hesitated for two months before doing so. Though the Soviet Union was the only country to maintain its own political party in Spain, Comintern policy had been to "work the system," using the complete leftist domination of institutions to institute a "new type" of all-leftist republic from which all conservative forces would be eliminated through nominally legal means. The Comintern had even sought to moderate the extreme revolutionary left, for a civil war would introduce incalculable new elements into the equation. Once the Civil War broke out, however, Stalin came under considerable pressure from Communist opinion abroad and also within the Soviet Union to support the only active worker revolution in the world.
The intervention policy that Stalin finally decided upon in mid-September 1936 was predicated on several factors. One was the willingness of the Republican government to use the sizable Spanish gold reserve-as a result of Spain's recent prosperity, the fourth or fifth largest in the world-to pay for Soviet arms, thus enabling the Communist regime to turn a commercial profit from a nominally revolutionary intervention. Victory in Spain would then give the Soviet Union a major voice in southwestern Europe for the first time. The last important factor was maintenance of the Comintern and Soviet propaganda, denying the reality of revolution and even of Soviet intervention while espousing the banner of "democratic antifascism." Thus intervention might enable the revolutionaries to win the war under increasing Communist tutelage, while France and Britain would not be inhibited from embracing collective security with Moscow. It was a complex policy, contradictory to outsiders, and ultimately it failed in every dimension.
Sizable amounts of Soviet matériel, including the latest-model planes and tanks, accompanied by hundreds of Soviet military advisers and specialized personnel, turned the tide in the Civil War by November 1936, making possible a successful defense of Madrid and turning the conflict into a longer war of attrition. The Comintern assisted by mobilizing the soon-famous International Brigades, a grand total of approximately 42,000 foreign volunteers, most of them Communists. Mussolini and Hitler countered Stalin's escalation with an even greater escalation of their own, which ensured that the fighting would continue with no resolution in sight.
The Civil War catapulted the Spanish Communist Party from a small, marginal organization into a major force. The Soviets' assistance and their emphasis on military organization and rebuilding the state permitted them to play an increasingly hegemonic role in the Republican government and military in the second half of the Civil War. They insisted on a channeling of the revolution, reducing some of its more extreme features to privilege state and military power, with the goal of achieving the "new type" of "people's republic" they had introduced in Mongolia in 1924. The collectivist revolution should be trimmed in favor of a Soviet-style New Economic Policy, as introduced by Lenin in 1921, which eschewed collectivization in favor of state nationalization of the industrial "commanding heights," for the time being leaving most property in private hands.
A striking feature of the Civil War was that both sides proclaimed it to be a struggle for national independence. The insurgents developed a discourse insisting that the revolt had preempted an armed takeover by the Communists (though in fact the Communists envisioned such a thing only in the more distant future, as their policy made clear). To Franco and his followers, the Civil War had been instigated by the Soviet Union, now said to be trying to take direct control of Spain. Conversely, the Republicans held that the Civil War had been started by a Nazi-Fascist conspiracy to seize Spain, using the military insurgents as puppets. Both sides thus claimed to be waging a war of national liberation.
The last twenty-one months were the period of Communist (and Soviet) hegemony, which grew somewhat stronger during 1938. Within the Republican zone, the Communists declared the revolutionary wartime Republic to be a república popular, according to the Soviet and Comintern formula. Subsequently both the Nacionales on the one hand and the extreme revolutionary left on the other would agree on only one thing: that the wartime Republic had become the first Soviet-type "people's republic" of the sort imposed in Eastern Europe after 1945.
They were exaggerating. The wartime Republic was indeed a people's republic of a sort, an exclusivist revolutionary regime of the left with all centrist and conservative elements eliminated, but it was a semi-pluralist, not a Soviet-type, people's republic. Relative Communist hegemony in Spain was not the same thing as total Soviet domination in Eastern Europe. In Spain the Soviets could not completely control the government, or impose their full economic program or control all aspects of the military and the police. Communist hegemony was relative, never absolute. As war weariness grew, impatience mounted against the attempt to keep the war going until a general European war broke out, when the Nacionales hoped to benefit from French intervention. The feeling grew that Soviet policy was simply to fight to the last Spaniard, and by early 1939 the Communists were in fact becoming politically isolated. In March 1939 a military revolt backed by all the other leftist forces seized control of Madrid and deposed the existing Republican government, which had to flee the country. The regime surrendered at the end of the month.
Origins of the Franco Regime
Both sides were radicalized during the first weeks of the Spanish conflict. Full-scale revolution broke out in the Republican zone, but the rebels could not impose their initial plan to set up a military government to "rectify" the Republic in the direction of a more rightist, authoritarian system because of the partial failure of the revolt. The rebel commanders set up a Junta of National Defense (echoing language common since the French Revolution) in Burgos on 23 July 1936 as a sort of government by military committee. As the struggle became an intense civil war of the most violent and atrocious kind and the rebel forces attempted a decisive drive on Madrid, the junta selected a commander in chief. There was only one real candidate: Major General (General de Division) Francisco Franco Bahamonde, the most prominent gure in the Spanish army.
Excerpted from Franco and Hitler by Stanley G. Payne Copyright © 2008 by Stanley G. Payne. Excerpted by permission.
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Part I From Civil War to World War
Chapter 1 The Spanish Civil War 3
Chapter 2 Hitler's Strategy in the Civil War 20
Chapter 3 Military and International Significance of the Civil War 32
Chapter 4 A Tilted Neutrality 44
Part II "Nonbelligerence"
Chapter 5 Franco's Temptation 61
Chapter 6 The Meeting at Hendaye and Its Aftermath 87
Chapter 7 The Zenith of Collaboration 114
Chapter 8 Temptation Continues 128
Chapter 9 The Blue Division 146
Chapter 10 Temptation Abates 155
Chapter 11 Temptation Ends 180
Part III The Struggle to Escape the "Axis Stigma"
Chapter 12 Spanish Diplomacy and the Holocaust (I) 209
Chapter 13 Spanish Diplomacy and the Holocaust (II) 221
Chapter 14 Neutrality by Compulsion 236
Chapter 15 The End of the Relationship 253