Analysis 2 Why Were Hopes Of Coexistence Between The Spanish People Dashed After February 1936

This analysis will focus on the fourteen months from May 1935 to July 1936. In order to place the February 1936 elections in perspective, some reference to the upheavals of October 1934 will be made. As will be seen, within a broad definition of 'coexistence', difficulties were to be experienced at all levels. Though there were always constraints and opportunities that prevented total fragmentation, this is not how it appeared to many at the time.

Already in October 1934 three CEDA ministers had been appointed to government, sparking working-class and regionalist revolts. Then, in May 1935, Prime Minister Lerroux reshuffled his cabinet, adding two more CEDA ministers: the CEDA leader Gil Robles became Minister of War. Together, this dissonant quintet would ensure the failure of coexistence in Spain. To call them 'Lerroux's ministers' rather misses the point. At the War Ministry, Gil Robles - pausing on his own resolute ascent to the summit - appointed a triad of generals to key posts, although Franco (Chief of General Staff) was more prepared at this stage to coexist with the Republic than were Fanjul (Under-Secretary of War) and Goded (Inspector-General and Director of the Air Force).

Gil Robles himself expected to succeed Prime Minister Lerroux's own successor Chapaprieta, who resigned over a budget crisis at the end of 1935. But the CEDA leader miscalculated: his glowing references to the death of parliamentary democracy, along with the yells of his youth wing (JAP) for 'All power to the chief!', merely alienated President Alcalá Zamora, who did not appoint him. Yet Gil Robles still had the power to sustain heavy CEDA pressure in parliament, and in the February 1936 election campaign he exhorted JAP to spread propaganda against the Republic.

Much to Gil Robles's fury, however, the right lost the February 1936 elections to the 'odious' Popular Front: a bitterly controversial result whose statistics have been analysed in depth by the Spanish historian Xavier Tusell Gómez. Following the Popular Front victory, more radical right-wingers, notably José Cairo Sotelo, began to dig a deeper furrow in Spanish politics.7 Would Gil Robles now 'coexist' with such elements on the far right, or would he actively encourage his followers to join them? The view that the 'legal' path had failed was spreading, and Gil Robles could not obstruct the accelerating climb of far-right anti-parliamentary groups. Nevertheless, as Paul Preston has written, 'he played an active, and indeed crucial, role, in parliament and the press, in creating the atmosphere which made a military rising appear to the middle classes as the only alternative to catastrophe'.8 Gil Robles used parliament for propaganda, but meaningful coexistence with the state was as unacceptable to him as it was to the militant Socialist Largo Caballero.

In jail after the October 1934 risings, and following his release at the end of 1935, Largo Caballero mused on Marx and revolution. But until the defeat of the right in the February 1936 elections he was prepared to coexist with Prieto, his reformist rival in the PSOE. Prieto's ambition to mobilize a broad front behind the Republic with a moderate reform agenda (what became the January 1936 Popular Front programme) won wide public support, reflected in the Popular Front victory. However, Largo Caballero was committed to his own root-and-branch plan to radicalize the PSOE with Communist Party support and now ended his tactical alliance with Prieto: he vetoed the idea of power-sharing by the PSOE, and his newspaper Claridad showed that his tolerance of the government was heavily qualified:

We will not renounce our own right to criticize in order to maintain the vigilance of the working class, which is now marching forward to the final goal of our class, and, at the slightest sign of weakening, to set the working class against its present allies.9

Meanwhile, in the rural districts, people were coexisting less with each other than with trauma, confrontation and murder. Left provoked right, and vice versa. Churches and right-wing HQs in Córdoba province suffered incendiary attacks by the CNT. Forcing thousands out of work, landlords flooded arable land and faced the wrath of the FNTT. In the years of reaction (November 1933-February 1936), governments and landlords had driven through progress in reverse. Now the new Popular Front government was set on moving politics and society forward once more - but, just as surely, enraged their opponents when they reinstated forward-looking laws.

The role of the press, discussed in Analysis (1), underlines the limitations of coexistence within right-wing politics. El Debate lionized the Falange's mauling of the left, but the Falange scorned this praise, and frequently disrupted CEDA meetings. These were times of shifting loyalties and identities, with agents provocateurs adding to the confusion.

As Gerald Brenan explained in The Spanish Labyrinth the limits of coexistence were also evident at the level of 'high' politics. For example, President Alcalá Zamora was in the firing line from his prime minister, Azaña, who was bitterly resentful at Zamora's 'meddling' and his wish to dissolve the Cortes. But, if President Zamora and Prime Minister Azaña could not coexist, who would take the President's place were he to be impeached for this 'interference'? Ironically, it would be Azana who now found himself head of state - on 10 May 1936, the fifth anniversary of the first church-burnings.10 Who would become Prime Minister now that Azana was President? The Left Republican whom Azana chose, Casares Quiroga, seemed grudging in his attacks on left-wing violence. Neither Azana nor Casares and his colleagues had the power to reconcile, inspire and unite. Increasingly, coexistence seemed confined to Casares's cabinet.

During the period May-July 1936, industrial relations hit rock bottom. Shipping, the hotel industry, and tram, railway and building companies all found themselves under economic siege. Employers undermined the arbitration committees and rejected the shorter working week reintroduced after the Popular Front election victory. Among workers' organizations, the anarchist CNT was 'coexisting' with neither the Socialist UGT (General Union ofWorkers) nor the Communist Party. And even if for the Communists and Largo Caballero's left wing of the Socialist Party revolution was a longer-term goal, their propaganda, along with the economic civil war, was enough, in the words of Paul Preston, 'to verify the exaggerated picture of unmitigated chaos being painted by Calvo Sotelo and Gil Robles'.11 Moreover, although Prieto was gaining support within sections of the Socialist Party for his more centrist brand of politics, his meetings were attacked by the militant Socialist-Communist youth movement, the JSU - between its assaults on anarchists and Falangists. On this jagged edge of civilian politics coexistence was, for many, a forgotten cause.

There were exceptions to this rule. Catalonia, with its semi-autonomy restored, appeared relatively quiescent in the otherwise 'ominous'12 spring of 1936. However, relentless headlines of bloody confrontation continued to sap national morale. For many months, with the political stakes so high, there had been no significant centre in Spanish politics. Disingenuously, Gil Robles blamed Spain's agony on the left. But whatever the hierarchy of causes for the impending national earthquake, it is not surprising that the army, or some of it, defender of eternal Spain's integrity, finally rose up. Those who sought to defend the new Spain, despite or because of the chaos of July 1936, resisted; in the final analysis, military could not coexist with military, either.

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