Chapter 3: The Situation in Spain Before the Revolt

The republic had in a few years worn out its prestige with the people. The eternal irresolution of the republican party politicians, their dread of any decisive step, which led to a steadily growing recombination of the old reactionary elements of the country, the systematic persecution of the labor movement, which was directed with especial brutality against the C.N.T. (Confederacion Nacional del Trabajo -- the anarcho-syndicalist labor unions), eight or nine thousand of whose members were from time to time introduced to the prisons of the republic, the bloody incidents of Pasajes, Jerica, Burriana, Epila, Arnedo, and Casas Viejas, and particularly and above all, the bloody suppression of the uprising in Asturias in October, 1934, by African troops, with its horrible accompaniments -- all this had contributed in richest measure thoroughly to disgust the Spanish people with the republic, which was for them only a new facade, behind which lay hidden the same old powers of darkness.

And, as a matter of fact, the clerical and monarchist elements were raising their heads ever more threateningly and were seeking with stubborn persistence to reunite their scattered forces and to regain their lost position. When, then, after the fall of the Samper ministry in October, 1934, three members of the "Catholic Popular Action" founded by the Fascist, Gil Robles, were included in the new Lerroux cabinet, everybody knew in what direction they were headed, and there could be no further thought of a parliamentary solution of the political and social crisis. The uprising in Asturias was the immediate outcome of the situation, and its cruel suppression, with its utter disregard of every principle of humanity, only poured oil on the flames, and opened an abyss between the government and the people which could never again be bridged.

That open reaction could never attain to victory without encountering the desperate resistance of those great masses of the people which found their revolutionary point of departure in the C.N.T. and the F.A.I. (Iberian Anarchist Federation), was inevitable. What had been possible in Germany was unthinkable in Spain. The guaranty for this was found in the revolutionary and libertarian character of the Spanish workers' and peasants' movement, which had thus far maintained itself by years of obstinate struggle against all reactions. In fact, a few months after the occurrences in Asturias, there swept over Spain a new revolutionary wave, which also put its stamp on the elections in February of 1936.

The victory of the so-called Popular Front was in no respect a vote of popular confidence in the republic, but merely a proclamation by the great masses that they were in no mind to abandon the field to the reaction without resistance and allow it to set up the monarchy again. That the elections could not bring any effective solution of the situation and that the conflict between revolution and counter-revolution would have to be carried on outside of parliament, was clear to everyone who could see at all. And it very soon became clear also that the new Popular Front government was not competent to deal with the situation, and it was quickly confronted with problems which it neither could solve nor had any desire to solve. That the forces of reaction had no intention of allowing an electoral defeat to end the matter, but were now fully determined to work out a real decision by the armed hand, was revealed very soon after the assembling of the new parliament. The frank appeal of the Monarchist deputy, Calvo Sotelo, to the leaders of the army to overthrow the republic was the first move in which the coming events cast their shadow before them.

It is generally known today that President Aza-a was informed of the intentions of the generals; but the cabinet did not move a finger to avert the danger that threatened. Just as the thoroughly criminal indecision of the republican government had in 1932 been responsible for Sanjurjo's military revolt, so this time, also, the so-called Popular Front government permitted the militaristic brigands to weave traitorous plans in peace, without taking a single step to oppose them. When the first news of the uprising in Morocco reached Spain, the government was actually just on the point of turning over the war ministry to General Mola. But it was then too late; Mola was already leading his troops on Madrid to administer the coup de grâce to the republic.

All of these things were well known in Spain. The anti-Fascist press, and especially the daily papers of the C.N.T., had often raised its voice in warning against the approaching danger; but the Popular Front government, with impudent frivolity, flung all precautions to the wind. Then after the Fascist revolt had broken out and had been put down in Barcelona in a few days by the heroic resistance of the C.N.T. and the F.A.I., thus ridding Catalonia of the enemy and bringing to naught the fine-spun plan for overcoming Spain by a well-directed strategic surprise, it is easy to understand that the workers of Catalonia could not stop half way, if they did not wish at the next opportunity to be once more exposed to the same danger. And so there ensued the collectivization of the land and the taking over of the industrial plants by the workers' syndicates; and this movement, which was released by the initiative of the C.N.T. and F.A.I., swept on with irresistible force into Aragon, the Levante, and other parts of the country. The revolt of the Fascists had started Spain on her way to a social revolution.

It was this turn in affairs which filled the managers of the foreign capital invested in Spain with profound anxiety for the future of their monopolies. If the revolt of the generals against their own people had been purely a Spanish affair, the English government would certainly not have hesitated to protect the interests of British capital in Spain. The turning over of a whole people to the hangman would have caused the English diplomats no serious pangs of conscience, so long as the desired purpose could be achieved.