Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Spanish Civil War

From The Forgotten War, Remembered, by Eugene W. Plawiuk:
The Spanish Civil War, was not only a battle against fascism, but a social revolution. It involved all of Europe and the political forces of the left and the right, in the struggle to defend socialism and democracy from the forces of reaction.

In 1931 Spain had held its first ever democratic elections, after King Alfonso abdicated, which a united front of socialists, and liberals won. The government declared Spain a Republic bringing to an end 300 years of feudalistic rule by the aristocracy and the Catholic church. The republic declared itself in favour of land reform, breaking up the big haciendas and for union recognition for workers. The anarchists, socialists and some communists saw this as the beginning of a workers revolution. The liberal and moderate Republicans were terrified that change was happening too fast. In particular they were afraid of the power of the church, the old families, and the military which was under the control of extreme right wing elements.

In 1936 with the support of Hitler, Mussolini and the Catholic Church the right wing in Spain led a counter revolution against the Republican government. They used the army under General Franco to attack the government. Civil War was declared, and the call: NO PASARAN! (they shall not pass), went out around the world for workers to defend the Republic. The response to that call was the creation of the International Brigades, a volunteer army of workers, artists and intellectuals who went to Spain to fight on behalf of the Republican cause.

Franco's forces were held back in Catalonia, Barcelona and the northern Basque provinces. Here anarchist-syndicalists took over the factories and peasants formed anarchist communes on the land recently liberated from the old families. Direct democracy was instituted not only in the factories but in the cities. Police were replaced with civilian self defense forces made up of armed workers prepared to defend the revolution from Franco's forces. A new social revolution was being created in the midst of a civil war.
Here are some sections of the legendary film, The Spanish Earth, by Joris Ivens, with commentary written by Ernest Hemingway and narration by Orson Welles. The film is a documentary, so you'll be able to experience some of the sights and sounds of Spain during that period a (roughly 1931-1937) and get some sense of what the war was like and what some of the issues were.

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

Part 6 (conclusion):

More from Plawiuk's history:
Stalin's support gave more power to the Communist Party of Spain which was smaller and weaker than either the Independent Marxist Party (POUM) or the Anarchists. It was this intervention by Moscow that led the Communists to the tragic mistake of believing they could compromise with Franco. The anarchists and members of POUM saw the Civil War as a chance at creating a social revolution. The war was seen as a defense of the communes and factory occupations that were going on in Northern Spain. In Madrid the communists and the Republican government saw this as a war in defense of parliamentary democracy against the forces of fascism and reaction. The world powers, saw this as a possible prelude to World War and were terrified of confronting Germany and Italy over the issue.

The Communists and the Republican Government believed that they could negotiate with Franco if they quelled the anarchist revolution in Catalonia and Barcelona. It was this tragic policy that led to a civil war within the civil war. Communist party commissars and military advisors from Moscow, seized control of the army and attacked the anarchists and POUMists. The most pitched battles in the last days of the civil war were in the cities controlled by the Anarchists laid siege to by the Republican army under communist control.

In the end Spain fell to Franco . . .


  1. A good site for more about the Spanish Civil war, including photos that for many might be lost friends. I picked up from a friend in Manitoba, whose dad would sing him songs of the International Brigades. -david lee

  2. Thanks, Dave, for the link to this extremely interesting site. Here's a particularly apt quote from the historical essay at the top of the heap:
    "It is important to remember in this context the curiously contradictory character of life during the Great Depression. Hand in hand with widespread poverty and suffering went a certain fervent hope for change and a belief in the possibility of finding collective solutions to common economic problems. The government elected in Spain in 1936 seemed like it would contribute materially to those solutions." Let's hope things turn out better this time.


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