Elections and the Constitution

Apart from these early conflicts, which, as we shall see, were soon joined by the most radical sector of anarcho-syndicalism, the

19 Niceto Alcalá Zamora, Memorias, Planeta, Barcelona, 1977, p. 185; letter from Cardinal Francesc Vidal y Barraquer to Alcalá Zamora in Arxiu Vidal i Barraquer, pp. 41-2.

provisional government's main concern was to call a general election and provide the Republic with a Constitution. Elections with universal suffrage, representative governments that answered to parliament, and compliance with the law and the Constitution were the distinguishing features of the democratic systems that were emerging or being consolidated at that time in the main countries of western and central Europe. And this is what the republicans and socialists who governed Spain tried to introduce during the early years of the Second Republic, to a large extent successfully.

The general election to the Constituent Cortes was held on 28 June. According to the election writ, which modified the 1907 Electoral Act, there would be a single chamber, instead of the two that made up the monarchist parliament. The voting age was lowered from twenty-five to twenty-three, and suffrage was restricted to males, although females could now stand for election, with the decision on female suffrage to be taken during the future legislature. To thwart any of the traditional fraudulent cacique-type practices, the first-past-the-post system was to be replaced by open lists, with constituencies by province. Provincial capitals with over 100,000 inhabitants were to have their own district, including their judicial district, and in Madrid and Barcelona the district would take in their municipality only. Seat distribution would be by a majority system, although with the application of a corrective factor that would permit voters to pick only 80 per cent of the deputies for their constituency, with the rest coming from minority lists. There would be one deputy for every 50,000 inhabitants, plus a further deputy for every 30,000 inhabitants after that, which would make up a Cortes of 470 deputies; and the automatic designation of unopposed candidates, as stipulated in the famous Arcticle 29 of the 1907 Electoral Act, was invalidated.

This electoral system favoured the major parties and coalitions, so that there would be governments with substantial parliamentary support, but it also enabled small parties on the fringes of the political scene to obtain, by entering these coalitions, a larger parliamentary representation than their electoral results gave them. This system favoured the coalition of socialists and republicans in 1931, was detrimental to them in November 1933 when they went to the country divided (as opposed to the right, who had reorganised and were united), and contributed to the polarisation of the Cortes that was elected in February 1936. But above all, it was a system that, by doing away with the small districts, attacked the roots of the cacique system and introduced free, legitimate elections for the first time in Spain's history.

The electoral campaign found the right still in disarray and lacking a firm policy, with some of its leaders having fled to other countries in case they were brought to trial for their actions during the dictatorship. Ángel Herrera, the editor of the Catholic daily, El Debate, and other members of the Asociación Católica Nacional de Propagandistas who had accepted the Republic as 'the only scenario possible', created Acción Nacional, whose primary objective was to promote a firm grass-roots policy, act within the bounds of the Republic, following the creed of 'the accidentality of forms of government', and defend the interests of order and the Church in the Cortes. Given the papal blessing and supported by a large number of bishops, this was the beginning of the Catholic grass-roots movement that burst with unexpected vigour onto the political stage two years later. But in June 1931, still in its embryonic phase, Acción Nacional could only field thirty-nine candidates in sixteen constituencies.

The victory of the republican-socialist coalition was overwhelming. Between the first and second ballots, envisaged by the election writ of 8 May 1931 for those constituencies where no candidate obtained 20 per cent of the votes, the Cortes voted in by the first of the Republic's elections was made up of nineteen parties or groups, six of which had fewer than five elected representatives. The principal modification to the electoral map was the fact that the Partido Socialista, which had never had more than seven deputies under the Monarchy, now had 115, and was the majority political force, with its votes coming mainly from the large estates areas of the south. The second biggest group was Alejandro Lerroux's radicals, with ninety-four deputies, a very important result that enabled the Partido Radical to occupy the republican centre, especially because the conservatives, led by Alcalá Zamora and Miguel Maura, the provisional government's Prime Minister and Interior Minister respectively, obtained only twenty-two seats. The fifty-nine Partido Radical-Socialista and thirty Acción Republicana deputies also showed the notable strength of the republican left, reinforced by the domination of Esquerra Republicana in Catalonia, which obtained thirty-five of the forty-nine seats contested there, and the sixteen deputies provided by the Federación Republicana Gallega.

The non-republican right-wing organisations obtained barely fifty seats and their results were only favourable in the Basque Country and Navarre, where sixteen of the twenty-four seats were won by the alliance of Carlists, Basque nationalists and independent Catholics. Even so, although few in number, there were some distinguished names among the right-wing deputies, with members of rich land-owning and industrial families, such as José Luis de Oriol, Julio de Urquijo, the Count of Romanones and Juan March. The common interests between landowners, order and religion were perfectly embodied by the agrarian deputies of Acción Nacional and by the Carlists and fundamentalists. The Count of Rodezno, a grandee of Spain, owned large properties in La Rioja and an estate in Cáceres. José María Lamamié de Clairac was one of the most powerful landowners of Salamanca, as was Francisco Estévanez of Burgos, both being spokesmen for cereal growers' interests in Castilla.

All the deputies, bar twenty-eight, were entering the Cortes for the first time. There were many intellectuals, journalists, teachers and lawyers, as well as members of the working class. And for the first time in history, there were three women: the republicans Clara Campoamor and Victoria Kent and the socialist Margarita Nelken. The republican vote had come mainly from the Mediterranean provinces, Aragon, Andalusia, Extremadura, La Mancha and Madrid. The old monarchist and Catholic right maintained its influence in Castilla, Galicia, Navarre and the Basque Country. At the opening session of the Constituent Cortes on 14 July 1931, the anniversary of the storming of the Bastille, Alcalá Zamora declared that 'today marks a high spot, a summit, a pinnacle in the history of Spain'. A few days later, the Cortes, with the socialist Julián Besteiro as Speaker, gave a vote of confidence to the provisional government, thereby making it the first official government of the Republic.

There was no sign in that Parliament of any radicalisation or polarisation of Spanish political life. There was no solid extreme right, let alone a Fascist party, while the Communist Party, at the time vehemently opposed to the 'bourgeois Republic', had obtained very poor results and no seats. Two essential ingredients of the process of rad-icalisation on the European stage, Fascism and Communism, were missing in Spain, although there was a powerful anarcho-syndicalist movement outside this Constituent Cortes, an institution that was viewed by its most extreme sector as 'a bourgeois mechanism whose purpose is to consolidate the regime of constant exploitation'. It was the only established force that clearly had no place in the system at that time. What was important was that the main party of the left was in the government and that a large proportion of the deputies of the Constituent Cortes (more than half of them) represented intellectuals, the middle class, professionals and tradesmen. One-quarter of the radical parliamentary group, as Nigel Townson has pointed out, came from the world of business, while of the leftist republican deputies, only 1 per cent came from this sector.20

What set this parliament apart from those of other republics that emerged from the break-up of empires following the First World War was that most of the deputies belonged to the coalition of parties that formed the government. Only around fifty seemed willing to defend the interests of traditional order and the Catholic Church. This did not reflect the views of large sectors of Spanish society, who had strong economic, social and cultural power, but they were not in the Cortes and were not going to be able to have an influence on the drafting of the Constitution. This was because the Republic arrived not as the result of the success of a republican movement with deep social roots, but because of a popular mobilisation against the Monarchy, which reaped its rewards just when the Monarchy was losing social and institutional support.

But this did not necessarily mean that the foundations of the Republic and democracy were shaky from the start. The results of the June 1931 elections showed that a large proportion of the Spanish had placed their hopes in the Republic. And they showed it via the exercise of popular sovereignty, in elections with only a 30 per cent abstention rate, in a vote of confidence for a Constituent Cortes and a parliamentary government. Everything that happened later, the strengths and weaknesses of the system, its successes and failures, up to the coup d'état of July 1936, have their historical explanations, and no predestined fatal outcome was to be found in the origins of this democratic Republic.

One of the fundamental tasks of this Constituent Cortes was to draw up and pass the first republican Constitution in Spain's history,

20 Nigel Townson, La República que no pudo ser. La política de centro en España (1931-1936), Taurus, Madrid, 2002, p. 83. (Original English edition: The Crisis of Democracy in Spain: Centrist Politics under the Second Republic (1931-1936), Sussex Academic Press, 2001.)

and this is what it devoted its energies to during the first few months. Before the elections, the provisional government had commissioned a draft Constitution from a legal committee presided over by the lawyer Angel Ossorio y Gallardo, a conservative politician under the Monarchy, 'a monarchist without a king' in 1930, and 'a monarchist without a king in the service of the Republic' after the proclamation. The text of the draft, which reflected the idea of a Republic of order held by Alcalá Zamora and the deputies of the Derecha Liberal Republicana, which became the Partido Republicano Progresista after August 1931, failed to win the unanimous support of the leftist republicans and was rejected by the socialists.

The government then commissioned a new draft Constitution from a parliamentary committee presided over by the socialist Luis Jiménez de Asúa, with the radical, Emiliano Iglesias, as vice-chairman, and Alfonso García de Valdecasas, of the Agrupación al Servicio de la República, as secretary. Within barely twenty days, they submitted the new draft, which was debated in the Cortes between 28 August and 1 December, in long evening sessions that often went on until dawn.

The Constitution resulting from this long debate defined Spain, in Article 1, as 'a democratic Republic of workers of all types, structured around freedom and justice. All its authority comes from the people. The Republic constitutes an integrated State, compatible with the autonomy of its Municipalities and Regions'. This Constitution also declared the non-confessional nature of the State, the ending of State financing of the clergy, introduced civil marriage and divorce and banned teaching activities for those in holy orders. Article 36, following heated debates, granted the vote to women, something that was being done in the democratic parliaments of the most enlightened countries during the interwar years. It was a proposal defended by the Partido Radical deputy, Clara Campoamor, in spite of the fact that a good many leftist republicans, including the socialist-radical Victoria Kent, feared that women would be influenced by the clergy to give their vote to right-wing organisations. With socialist support, despite the misgivings of Indalecio Prieto, the article was passed by 160 votes to 121. In short, it was a democratic, secular Constitution that confirmed the supremacy of legislative power.

The most serious crisis in the debate on the Constitution was provoked by the 'matter of religion', which left in its wake disturbances, quarrels, insults and angry declarations by the fundamentalists and the most incendiary and anticlerical elements of the left alike. José María Lamamié de Clairac threatened to oppose the Republic, because the Constitution, 'nourished by a spirit of sectarianism does not exist for us'. The lawyer and journalist Ángel Samblancat wanted to see the 'humanisation' of priests via marriage.21 And many 'Catholic women' began to send telegrams from all over Spain to the Interior Minister, Miguel Maura, asking him to defend the 'matter of religion' in Parliament.22

Final approval was given to Azaña's proposal made in his famous speech of 13 October, which moderated the original plan by restricting the constitutional precept of the dissolution of religious orders to the Jesuits only, and ratified the ban on teaching activities for those in holy orders. The text, which was put to the vote in the early hours of 14 October, was passed by 178 votes to 59; 233 deputies were not in the Chamber at that moment, many of them because they did not want to commit themselves to a viewpoint in such a complex matter. Lerroux, for example, stayed away from almost all these discussions, and left it in the hands of the party's spokesman, Rafael Guerra del Río.

The agrarian and Basque-Navarran deputies walked out of the Cortes after Article 26 of the Constitution (the 'matter of religion') was passed, and they published a manifesto declaring that 'the Constitution that is going to be passed cannot be ours' and that they would employ all their efforts in 'mobilising public opinion against it'. Alcalá Zamora and Miguel Maura, the Prime Minister and the Interior Minister, who had voted against it, resigned. The person who came out of all this best, Manuel Azaña, was proposed as the new Prime Minister. He took possession of the office on 15 October and introduced just one change: a new member of his party, José Giral, came in as Minister for the Navy, to replace Casares Quiroga, who in turn took over the Interior Ministry in place of Miguel Maura.

After more than three months of debate, the Cortes finally passed the Constitution on 9 December 1931, with 368 votes in favour, which were later to be joined by a further 17 votes from absent deputies, and none against, as the representatives of the right-wing organisations had stayed away from the Chamber for the vote. Thus

21 Diario de las Sesiones de las Cortes, 13 October 1931.

22 National History Archives, series A, dossier 6.

the Constitution was born with the opposition and rejection of the non-republican right, which made up its mind, from that moment, to revise it or, in the case of its most extremist elements, to abolish it. Gil Robles, who at that time was already one of the most notable defenders of the 'accidental nature of forms of government', of hoisting the flag of order and religion in Parliament, and who did not agree with Catholic deputies abandoning it, as they had done after Article 26 was passed, declared that this Constitution 'in terms of public liberties is tyrannical; in terms of religion it is persecutory and in terms of ownership it is shamefully Bolshevik-leaning'.23

Now that the Constitution had been passed, it was time to elect the President of the Republic. He was to be elected not by direct universal suffrage, as had been envisaged at first, following the pattern in other European republics, but by the Cortes. The government had agreed that the man for the job was Niceto Alcalá Zamora, in an attempt to bring back into the fold the conservative sector that had expressed its opposition to the articles regarding religion. It was also agreed that the Cortes would not be dissolved until certain fundamental laws envisaged in the Constitution had been passed.

Alcalá Zamora called on Manuel Azaña to form a government. Azaña's intention was that all the political forces that had been in the government since the proclamation of the Republic should continue to be represented, in a similar proportion. Lerroux refused to carry on in the government with the socialists. Azaña would have to make a choice: either the socialists or the Partido Radical. And he opted for the socialists; 'sending the socialists into opposition would turn the Cortes into a madhouse', he wrote in his diary on 13 December, convinced as he was that introducing representatives of the working classes into the government of the nation was an indispensable condition for stabilising the Republic and democracy, as had been the case in other European countries after the First World War.24 At that time, the crucial issue in all these democracies was the search for a 'stabilising coalition' that would be able to incorporate the most democratic

23 Quoted in Mercedes Cabrera, 'Proclamación de la República, Constitución y reformas', in Santos Juliá (ed.), Historia de España de Menéndez Pidal. República y guerra civil, 42 vols., Espasa Calpe, Madrid, 2004, vol. XL, pp. 20-30.

24 Manuel Azaña, Memorias políticas y de guerra, 4 vols., Crítica, Barcelona, 1981, vol. I, p. 335.

sectors of the middle classes and the more moderate fringe of the workers' movement to defend constitutional order.

The broad republican-socialist coalition that had governed in the early months of the Republic split in December 1931. Even so, the alliance between leftist republicans, some 150 deputies, and the socialists, with 115, ensured the existence of a government, bearing in mind that the 94 deputies who went over to the opposition belonged to a historical republican party, Lerroux's Partido Radical, and the monarchist or Catholic opposition was very weak at that time. The course of events, as we shall see, made it impossible for this 'stabilising coalition' to become consolidated, but the new government was formed, with Azaña as Prime Minister - a post he was to hold for almost two years, quite a feat considering the subsequent history of the Republic - and as Minister of War. Casares Quiroga and José Giral continued as Interior Minister and Minister for the Navy respectively. The radical-socialists Álvaro de Albornoz and Marcelino Domingo were given Justice, and Agriculture, Industry and Trade, respectively. Largo Caballero stayed on as Minister of Labour, and the other two socialists, Prieto and Fernando de los Ríos, were to take on the new Ministry of Public Works and Education. For the first time, two independents joined the government, the Catalan Jaime Carner and Luis de Zulueta, who were given Finance and Foreign Affairs, respectively.

Niceto Alcalá Zamora was President of the Republic and Manuel Azaña was Prime Minister. Spain was a parliamentary constitutional Republic. And it had managed all this in the seven months since the fall, the 'suicide', of the Monarchy. In view of the fact that this Republic, barely five years later, was defending itself in a civil war triggered by a coup d'état, all sorts of speculations may be made as to how far this Constitution and its administrators were responsible for the final drama. All the European republics that emerged in the 1920s and 1930s, except for Ireland, but including Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, Portugal and Greece, ended up threatened by reactionary forces and overthrown by Fascist or authoritarian regimes. And in all cases, not only Spain, the necessary criterion for the consolidation and stabilisation of democracy was that a large majority of the population would accept, or at least tolerate, these new regimes that had been introduced so swiftly and with hardly any bloodshed.

The Second Republic went through two years of relative stability, followed by another two years of political uncertainty and a final few months of disturbance and insurrection. It was forced to face firm challenges and threats from above and below. The first firm challenges, which were the most visible as they usually ended up as confrontations with the forces of order, came from below, first as social protests and later as insurrections from anarchists and socialists. However, the coup de grâce, the challenge that finally overthrew the Republic by force of arms, came from above and from within - that is to say, the military command and the powerful ruling classes that had never tolerated it. And that is what is recounted in the first part of this book.

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