Four days after the municipal elections of April 1931, and two days after the provisional government inaugurated the Second Republic, King Alfonso
XIII published his farewell message. This manifesto for the past and future raises several questions about his own role in politics, the position of the monarchy, and the wider nature of Spanish politics. For example, the results of the municipal elections did indeed, as Alfonso maintained, show public alienation from the monarchy, but this was not universal. The King had made mistakes, as he recognized, but was it 'without malice', as he claimed? People would, he continued, come to appreciate his consistent efforts to serve Spain to the best of his abilities. But to be a monarchist was not necessarily to be loyal to Alfonso as an individual: many monarchists were deeply disillusioned with him. The King's prerogatives were, he said, historical and national rather than personal to himself: but he had become closely identified with political controversy. Standing in the way of the national will would risk civil war, he declared, but the experience of the Republic would show that this national will was in fact divided against itself. He was 'King of all Spaniards'; but the Carlists (supporters of a rival branch of the royal dynasty) would hotly dispute that claim. Spain's destiny must be decided by Spain; but the Civil War would highlight the role other powers would play in deciding Spain's future. Alfonso declared he was suspending his royal powers while the nation decided his future: he hoped (in vain) to be recalled to the throne.
The historical significance of Alfonso's decision is twofold: it helps demonstrate the spread of republican and anti-monarchist sentiment in Spain by 1931, and it provides a basis for tracing the development of monarchist resistance to the Republic. Raymond Carr writes of Alfonso's 'moral isolation' in 1931,9 yet the King's moral authority had been shrinking for decades. He saw himself as a stabilizing factor in a very fluid political situation that featured competing cliques and changing alignments, in which he was sure to offend one faction or another. In the early 1920s he was accused of employing divide-and-rule tactics, which further damaged an already divided Conservative Party. As a 'hands-on' monarch, Alfonso was, as Carr points out, inevitably identified with unpopular government decisions, such as the sending of working-class Spaniards to shore up mining concerns in Morocco. The King's image also suffered badly from the bloody defeat at Annual (1921).
Perhaps not surprisingly, Spain's long tradition of republicanism came to a head in the 1920s. The Annual affair produced a radical antimonarchist alliance in 1926, and republicanism was fed further in 1928 by state recognition of Catholic university degrees. During demonstrations against the policy, the King's statue at Madrid University was vandalized beyond repair. It is a sign of how unpopular the King had become by 1928 that the leader of an abortive revolt against him was a leading conservative monarchist politician, Sánchez Guerra. Despite his failure, or perhaps because of it, Guerra became something of a national hero for his opposition to the King. Monarchists and republicans alike were demanding a decision-making Cortes. Guerra himself remarked, 'I am not a republican, but I recognize that Spain has a right to be a republic.'
The Pact of San Sebastián (August 1930) has been described by the Spanish historian Juan Pablo Fusi as 'the central event in the opposition to the monarchy of Alfonso XIII'.10 Under this pact, Spanish and Catalan republicans agreed to work together in exchange for a guarantee of Catalan autonomy; it further underlined the impossibility of the King's task of convincing the political elite to operate on his terms. The pact was supported by figures as diverse as Azaña, a progressive Republican; Alcalá Zamora, a conservative Liberal converted to republicanism by his disillusionment with the King; Lerroux, a right-wing Radical; Maura, a Conservative; and de los Rios, a Socialist intellectual. It also enjoyed the support of army radicals.
The King's unpopularity helped boost military involvement in republicanism. In 1930 junior officers staged a revolt at Jaca in Aragón. Many of the military had a personal grudge against the King because he had not kept his promise to overturn Rivera's policy on promotion through merit and the dictator's harsh policy towards the artillery corps. However, the Jaca Revolt failed to spark off a wider uprising, and collapsed: its two leaders were shot for treason. But the political shockwaves from these peacetime executions dwarfed even the trial of Sánchez Guerra. The two young officers became martyrs to an ever more popular republican cause.
Gerald Brenan observed that 'No king or dictator could hope to hold Spain if the towns were against him.'11 Yet that was exactly Alfonso's position in early 1931. Madrid and most provincial cities voted overwhelmingly Republican or Socialist, with a turnout twice the normal size, in the municipal elections. These damaging results presented Alfonso with something of a fait accompli. The Minister of War, General Berenguer (who had recently been Prime Minister), and General Sanjurjo, Commander of the Civil Guard, advised Alfonso that all was lost. By then, for most people in the upper and middle classes, a republic seemed preferable to Bolshevism: at least if Alfonso gave way to a presidency, Spain would not risk becoming the world's second proletarian state.
If the King played a central role in uniting his various opponents in opposition to himself, if not to the monarchy, he played a less central role in the development of monarchist opposition to the Republic. As his Farewell Message suggested, his initial reaction was realistic: to let the Republic be. But when the new government seized his property, exiled him for life and launched a ferocious attack on the Church and the very national order he had left office to defend, he became more amenable to the overtures of monarchist cliques. While the Church praised the monarchy as an institution, and Alfonso as King, other monarchist groups were mobilizing. They fell into two camps, the Alfonsists and the Carlists, each loyal to one of two rival lines within the Borbón dynasty. They all despised the 'atheistic' Republic; the Carlists also saw the chance to reassert themselves after their defeats at the hands of the Alfonsists during the nineteenth-century Carlist Wars. Some monarchists favoured a constitutionalist approach, wearing the Republic down from within. However, the higher-profile elements were more militant, pursuing a doctrine of 'catastrophism' - that is, violent and liberating convulsion which would bring the Republic crashing down and lead to the restoration of the monarchy.
It is important to realize that Alfonsists and Carlists were rivals: indeed, Carlists saw Alfonsine rule as iniquitous. Yet to a significant extent they cooperated. Both were militant, and bitterly critical of such right-wing 'moderates' as José María Gil Robles; but when the occasion demanded they were prepared to work with these same moderates, notably at election time. The government's 'revolutionary' reform policies made the monarchists increasingly sceptical of the constitutionalist approach, and in 1932 they formed the 'catastrophist' political parties, Comunión Tradicionalista for the Carlists (hence, 'Traditionalists') and Renovación Española for the Alfonsists. Both parties also operated as extra-parliamentary groups, hatching plots to destroy the Republic. The catastrophists relished their romantic struggle on the periphery of Spanish politics. Renovación Española plotted with military die-hards and sent delegates to lobby the Duce and the Pope. In the Carlist camp, paramilitary units (requetés) drilled for the coming conflict, supported by militant Catholic priests and, for historian Martin Blinkhorn, resembling Mussolini's squadristi.12
Hugh Thomas has noted that although Alfonso requested that nothing stand in the path of democracy in April 1931, during the Civil War he was active politically while resident in Italy: he gave generous financial help to the Nationalists and used his influence with the Italian state. Thomas also points up the class differences between Alfonsists, among whom wealthy landowners and financiers were prominent, and Carlists, who comprised less affluent aristocrats, peasants, skilled craftsmen and shopkeepers disillusioned by the government's economic agenda.13
Writing in the mid-1990s, George Esenwein and Adrian Shubert's emphasis is rather on the way Alfonso XIII himself betrayed the constitutional monarchy by accepting Primo de Rivera's coup and his Dictadura.14 Predictably, this boosted the Republican cause as shown by the conversion of Alcalá Zamora, later President of the Republic. Esenwein and Shubert also offer a different perspective from Thomas's on the division between Alfonsism and Carlism: that the Alfonsine Renovación Española was not a mass party like the Carlist Comunión Tradicionalista but that it nevertheless wielded considerable economic influence and had close associates in the army. For Carr, however, it was the Carlists who were 'the most serious and consistent plotters', though he, too, stresses the strong connection between generals in the Civil War and Alfonsists.15 The consensus is that, at grassroots level, it was the Carlist requetés who played a crucial role on the Nationalist side, providing some of Franco's most highly trained and fanatical soldiers. Indeed, the Carlists had come to regard Gil Robles's 'accidentalism' as anathema, far too moderate for their apocalyptic tastes.
Brenan also allows Alfonso the attempt to return to constitutional government in 1930 - without the risk of elections - but stresses that leading politicians would not cooperate. On the contrary, their antimonarchist, pro-republican stance acquired its highest profile yet in the August 1930 Pact of San Sebastián.16 Carr's rather different emphasis is on General Berenguer's role in delaying the elections, which added fuel to the campaign against the King. And the one party that in 1930 was monarchist - the Unión Monárquica Nacional - was at odds with Alfonso over his dismissal of General Primo.
In the end, the monarchists' uncompromisingly independent stance could not be sustained. In any case, the Civil War's most celebrated Nationalist leader, Francisco Franco, did not like the idea of working with independent-minded paramilitary groups, whether monarchist or fascist. He therefore subsumed them all in a 'super-movement', the Spanish Traditionalist Phalanx of the Groups of the National Syndicalist Offensive (FET y de las JONS), where they could be more easily controlled. Alfonso XIII did net formally abdicate until 1941, and for loyal Alfonsists he remained a symbol of hope; Franco, on the other hand, had no intention of undermining his own supremacy by restoring the King. It would be forty-four years after Alfonso's departure before the monarchy would be restored in the person of his grandson, King Juan Carlos. No Carlist pretender has challenged him. Yet.
1. How did the monarchy contribute to the growth of republicanism during the period 1921-31?
2. How important was monarchism in the Second Republic and the Civil War?
1. THE PRIMO DE RIVERA DICTATORSHIP IN CONTEXT
Source A: Manuel Azaña on the power of the cacique, 1923.
The oligarchy, as a system, and caciquismo as an instrument - the exclusion of the will of the rest - derive from before the constitutional regime and the suffrage and have persisted with them . . . The cacique scandalizes us because the public conscience is more sensitive than fifty years ago . . . The blackest side of the activities of the cacique is the everyday sordid oppression, that rarely gets reported in the press or in parliament; an oppression that bears fruit in votes, because it demands them . . . The kingdom of the cacique rests fundamentally on two bases: economic and professional. The ownership of the land; a little - or a lot -of disposable income, and the offer of some necessary services, such as medical help, are the strongest means of hitching the people to his wagon . . . That which the loanshark or the doctor does not take for himself is fruit left to the priest, because (heavens above!) here also the true evangelicals are few and far between . . . The serious combat against the cacique is sustained by the organizations of landworkers and small peasants . . . [These] germs of peasant democracy are destroying the political bands and unmasking the allies of the cacique.
Source B: a Left Book Club viewpoint, 1936.
In the summer of 1922, the report of the committee, headed by General Picasso, was presented. Promptly the Council of Ministers suppressed it . . . Among the punishments recommended for the culpable was death for the high commanding generals in Morocco and several of the ministers in Madrid . . . A storm of protest burst over the news that the Picasso report was to be shelved. The King dissolved Parliament. New elections left conditions unchanged. The way was open for a dictator to step in . . . With an iron hand [Primo de Rivera] put an end to the movement which threatened to implicate the King himself. The nobility, the large landowners, the Church dignitaries, the monarchist pensioned mayors, the responsible militarists, all breathed a sigh of relief at the advent of the Primo de Rivera dictatorship.
Was this article helpful?