'We are waging war because it is being waged on us', said Manuel Azaña in his speech in Valencia's city hall on 21 January 1937.1 A terrible war, which in barely half a year saw the cruel terror of the rebel army and Falangists, accompanied by a violent upheaval of the social order. And the Republic was indeed forced to fight in a war that it did not start, and the political organisations of the left had to adapt to a military activity that they knew practically nothing about. The varying ideas on how to organise the State and society held by the parties, movements and people who fought on the republican side ostensibly played a major part in frustrating a united policy against the military rebels. And there was nothing new in this situation, as it had been going on for years and had complicated the life of the Republic in peacetime as well.
Furthermore, as we have seen, the civil war was fought under the circumstances of the Non-Intervention Agreement imposed by the United Kingdom and France. For the Republic, this meant a marked international isolation, which placed it, and it alone, in a situation of material disadvantage. Non-intervention, in the words of Helen Graham, 'brought the daily erosion not only of the Republic's military capacity, but of its political legitimacy as well'. The international diplomacy that created and sustained this policy 'repeatedly blocked all the Republic's political exits, making it impossible for it to negotiate an end to the conflict in 1938'.2 The war consumed the Republic and finished it off.
Until the end arrived, on 1 April 1939, the Republic went through three different stages, with three prime ministers. The first stage, with José Giral as premier, was marked by the resistance to the coup, the
1 Manuel Azaña, Los españoles en guerra, Crítica, Barcelona, 1982, p. 19.
2 Helen Graham, The Spanish Republic at War 1936-1939, Cambridge University Press, 2002, p. xi.
formation of militias, revolution and the elimination of the symbols of power and conventional citizens. Giral (1879-1962), a left-wing republican, from the same party and generation as Manuel Azaña (18801940), had held the chair of inorganic chemistry at the Universities of Salamanca and Madrid, was rector of Madrid University in 1931 and had taken an active part in politics during the Republic: he had been the Navy Minister in Azaña's governments between 15 October 1931 and June 1933; and after the Frente Popular coalition victory in February 1936, Azaña once more called on him to occupy the same post, and he stayed there in Santiago Casares Quiroga's government, until the military uprising.
As Giral did not represent this new open social and political mobilisation against the military rebellion, which was also directed against what was left of the republican State itself, nor the various revolutionary and trade union powers that were emerging - the only powers that exercised any authority in the chaos of the summer of 1936 - he had to resign and hand over to Francisco Largo Caballero. Giral continued to serve the Republic and was the Foreign Minister in Juan Negrín's first government, between 17 May 1937 and 6 April 1938, a post that was crucial for putting into practice the change in direction in Negrín's foreign policy, and was then Minister without Portfolio until the end of the war. He crossed the French border on 5 February 1939, together with Manuel Azaña (from whom he never separated during these difficult times), Azaña's wife and brother-in-law, Dolores and Cipriano de Rivas Cherif, and Diego Martínez Barrio, the Speaker of the Cortes. From France he went to Mexico, where he led the Republic's government in exile between 1945 and 1947. He died there in 1962.
The second stage began on 4 September 1936, when Francisco Largo Caballero (1869-1946) replaced Giral as Prime Minister. It was the first and only government in Spain's history that was led by a workers' leader, and the first time that there were Communist ministers in a western European government. There were not yet any anarchists, but they entered the government two months later. Between September 1936 and May 1937, Largo Caballero, with the collaboration of all the political and trade union forces fighting on the republican side, oversaw the reconstruction of the State, the militarisation of the militias, the contention of the revolution and the centralisation of power, all the while having to deal with challenges from the regions and nationalism, as Negrín would have to later. The fall of Málaga in February 1937 was the turning point in the military and political conflicts which led to the crisis in May. With his resignation, induced by the Communist Party and a sector of the PSOE executive, Largo Caballero, then 67, practically said goodbye to a long career devoted to trade union struggles, socialism and the Republic, although, by then in exile, he was yet to experience the hell of the Nazi concentration camp at Orianenburg. When it was liberated by the Russians in April 1945, he returned to France and died in Paris on 23 March 1946.
The third and last wartime premier of the Republic was Juan Negrín (1892-1956), a socialist deputy in the Republic's three Cortes, a university professor, a physiologist of international repute who had received his training in Germany, and a polyglot. His appointment was at the express decision of Manuel Azaña, with the support of the republicans, Prieto's socialists and the Communists. Demonised by his enemies and some of his alleged friends, his life and political activity has recently begun to gain a wider audience, thanks to studies by historians such as Helen Graham, Ricardo Miralles and Gabriel Jackson. Negrín hoped to win the war by combating the democratic powers' non-intervention policy, but the war was not going well, either at home or abroad. The beginning of his mandate coincided with that of Neville Chamberlain in the United Kingdom, who, by stepping up his 'appeasement' policy, gave way even more to the Fascist powers and ruled out any possibility of modifying the phony policy of non-intervention. The last year of the war was particularly difficult, with materiel and military problems, shortages of staple products, territorial losses and Francoist air-raids.
With the revolution overthrown, the Republic was unable to provide a convincing democratic solution. Resistance was not victory, although in the final months it seemed to be the only policy possible. The war lost, Negrín spent his early months of exile in France; afterwards, during nearly the whole of the Second World War, he was in England, where he led the republican government in exile, a post that was never recognised by Winston Churchill. After the defeat of the Axis powers, he returned to Paris, where he died on 12 November 1956.
Was this article helpful?