Friday, June 2, 2017

The early 20th Century in Spain

In 1906, on the wedding day of the 21 year old Spanish King Alfonso XIII and his English bride Victoria Eugenie, a bomb was hurled at the royal carriage. People and horses died in the attack but, miraculously, apart from a blood splattered wedding dress, the Royal Couple survived unscathed. The attack reflected the mood of the people of Spain at the beginning of the 20th Century. Ordinary working people were so fed up with the inability of their government to give them decent living and working conditions that they were looking for change and if that involved violence then so be it.

With the dawn of the new century Spain faced serious problems. The rich industrial regions of Cataluña and the Basque Country were agitating for self government whilst downtrodden Spanish workers had organised into trades unions and were taking militant and effective strike action. During the First World War Spain remained neutral and prospered but, as the war drew to a close, inflation, unemployment and unrest rose steeply. By 1921 the government had lost the confidence of the people and, in 1923, an army general called Miguel Primo de Rivera staged a successful military coup. The King accepted the new, unconstitutional, government without a murmur.

Primo de Rivera remained in power for seven years. At first he was popular and people accepted the strict measures he brought in because they were seen as generally good for the country. However, when Spain was hit by the world economic slump of 1929 Primo de Rivera lost much support and there were several attempts to depose him. By 1930 he had even lost the backing of the armed forces and, realising that the situation was hopeless, he resigned and retired to France where he died six weeks later.

With Primo gone King Alfonso was roundly criticised for having supported the dictatorship. The mood of the country had changed and ordinary people were now firmly in favour of a republic. In 1931 when local elections confirmed that the people no longer supported the monarchy Alfonso quietly left the country from Cartagena never to return.

The 1931 General Elections returned a socialist republican government. The new republic was received with tremendous enthusiasm by much of Spanish society. People had high hopes for what it could achieve. The new government made sweeping changes in the first two years including land reforms, limiting the power of the Catholic Church and granting home rule to Cataluña. However, Spain's problems were many and complex and the government soon began to bog down. Alienated groups, such as the Church, landowners whose land had been seized, monarchists and the army began to mount serious opposition. Various right wing political groups emerged including a fascist party, the JONS, and the Falangist party both of which were to play a major role in the later Spanish Civil war and beyond. The Republic was supported by the anarchist and socialist trades unions, the newly formed Communist Party and left wing nationalist parties in the Basque Country and Cataluña

Political instability led to new elections in 1933 which were won by a right wing alliance that set about dismantling the reforms of the previous government. Waves of violence swept the country, led by working people, several of which were brutally suppressed by government troops.

There were yet more General elections in 1936 and this time the various left wing political parties joined together in a popular front that won a clear majority. By now though chaos was generalised throughout the country and right wing factions were actively plotting the overthrow of the government. And so, on 18th July 1936 elements of the army rebelled against the elected government and the Spanish Civil War had begun.

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