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Why was there a Civil War in Spain?

http://tbn0.google.com/images?q=tbn:znVPQPafVukgQM:http://www.elcantodelbuho.org/carteles/grande/AIP_053.jpgAsk the average person in the street the question ‘what do you know about the Spanish Civil War?’ and the answer will probably reveal nothing – most people will not have a clue and others will vaguely mention something to do with Franco or Ernest Hemingway. Considering thousands of books were written on the war it still remains a confusing and misunderstood era of history.

Why? It is a too complex a subject to understand in a few lines. Here I will try to breakdown the underlying reasons for the war into bite sized chunks.
History Lesson Go back to the war of independence against Napoleon in 1812 and we have traditional aristocratic Spain clashing with the rise of liberalism. In fact a few years later Ferdinand VII was to crush this ‘disastrous mania of thinking’. Between 1814 and 1876 there were 12 coups and another 25 attempts. It’s fair to say the country was in chaos. In 1874 the monarchy was brought down and the first republic proclaimed – this lasted almost a year! Politics entered a period of farce with the Church, army and monarchy jointly ‘fiddling while Rome burnt.’

What was the response? The ruling families withdrew into their estates (and into themselves) and settled for a feudal ‘ideal’. King Alfonso XIII was a figurehead with a fondness for all things military and himself. The church kept its insensitive authoritarian path.

Spain in my opinion was like the old fashioned store who continues to trade when a superstore has opened next door. It ignores the lack of profits and has to survive on savings. Eventually the astonished and rather angry owner is forced to shut down. Spain reached this point in 1898 with the loss of its colonies in Cuba, the Philippines and Puerto Rico. The USA effortlessly pushed the Spanish forces aside – popular myth says the Spanish were too busy having a siesta and just let the Yanks in without a fight.

This is too simplistic (in fact siestas didn’t come into the culture until the 1920’s) but there is some truth in the story – the army and navy were riddled with lazy, corrupt officers promoted on the basis of their wealth and connections rather than merit. They were inept and many stories tell of the officers selling provisions & equipment that should have gone to the lower ranks.
So by the turn of the century whilst Victorian Britain was at its peak and the USA was forging ahead at an enormous rate Spain was decript and in danger of collapse.

See Decorated Carabinero
At the same time remarkable things were occurring in the countryside. Spanish peasants heard about what was happening in the outside world – the ideas of Marx and the anarchist Bakunin greatly appealed to people who had nothing. This developed with an almost religious intensity. In the towns workers had a more revolutionary edge which lead to the Barcelona uprising of 1909. As with many violent situations in Spain the causes are often unexpected. In this case the army suffered a serious defeat in Morocco and their response was to forcibly recruit workers - this was botched and sparked violence against the government.

It is the 1930’s. Imagine you are an educated and wealthy Spaniard with a farm in Andalusia which you seldom visit – in fact you live in Madrid. Furthermore you don’t really know anything about farming and leave everything to your overseer. You lead a comfortable if idle life.
Suddenly there is a general election and to your horror a rag tag bunch of socialists, liberals, communists and republicans win and join together to form a ‘Popular Front’. You can’t deny this was always a possibility; in fact there were one or two narrow escapes in the preceding years.
One day you are told a percentage of your land is going to be given to your peasant workers – enough is enough. Who is going to stand up for the landowners rights? Of course this is a simplistic example but partly explains the outrage of many in Spain in 1936.
What didn’t they like?

The rest as they say is history.