In this analysis 'Republicans' will be taken to mean 'loyalists' or 'anti-Nationalists'. However, we may preface this question with another: how united was the Popular Front before the Civil War? That divisions predated the upheavals of July 1936 is evident from the fact that the Popular Front alliance party winning the most seats in the February 1936 elections, the PSOE, stood outside the government for seven months, and that internally, since 1934 at least, the PSOE had been in an increasingly fractious state. Concerning the war itself, it would be wrong to opt for stereotypes and sweeping assumptions to the effect that 'Spain was hopelessly divided'. After all, the political situation on the Republican side was extremely fluid and alignments were made as often as they were broken.
It can be postulated that the Republic faced a common enemy and was united by the experience of war. But was 'the enemy' uniquely synonymous with 'Nationalist', and did the experience of war divide the Republic as much as it bound it together? Was 'unity' seen as relevant by all on the Republican side; was it even acceptable, for example, to rank-and-file anarchists if it meant alliance with the 'regimented centralism' of the PCE? Admittedly, to some extent Republican unity rested on tolerance of regional differences and apparently incompatible political identities. Paradoxically, a division of minds was integral to 'Republican identity'. Indeed, historians such as Malefakis, Carr, and Esenwein and Shubert have drawn attention to contrasting 'models' of Republican Spain and what these models - the conventional and the revolutionary; the centralist and the separatist - say about conceptions of how to win the war.17
Franco's military successes bit deeply into the geographical unity of the Republic, although this unity was always qualified by differences in regional consciousness and governing institutions. The Basque Country, for example, was both more pluralistic and more conservative than other Republican regions. A glance at a map of the respective 'zones' soon after the outbreak of war shows much of the far north cordoned by insurgent territory from the rest of the Republic. The Basques' Autonomy Statute of October 1936 nominally secured their commitment to the Republican cause. However, the Basque armed forces, with their various political battalions and priests instead of commissars, were never fully integrated into the Republican Army of the North, and military cooperation with the Asturians further west, with their 'revolutionary hooliganism',18 proved controversial. Politically, the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV), led by Basque President Aguirre, dominated the government in Bilbao. But the PNV's harmonious working relationship with the Socialists, Left Republicans, Communists and (more liberal) Basque Nationalist Action Party did not extend to the anarchists, who recoiled at the Basque nationalists' at once 'oppressive' and 'subversive' Catholicism. Evidence that degrees of unity could fluctuate over a period of time is shown by the deteriorating relationship within the Bilbao government between the PNV and the Communists, whose propaganda during the northern military campaigns of 1937 alienated many Basques; and by the unstable connections between the PNV and the central government (whether in Madrid, Valencia, Barcelona or Figueras). For example, the PNV withdrew from the Negrín government in August 1938, angered by its increasing intolerance, and the draconian methods of its security service (the SIM).
The long-standing tensions in Catalonia's relationship with central government have already been discussed. However, the abolition of the Anti-Fascist Militias Committee in September 1936, in an attempt to rationalize the war effort in Catalonia, is relevant here. That committee's representative groups, notably the CNT, PSUC and POUM, were now given responsible office in the Generalitat. The Catalan historian Albert Balcells has described this as a 'new anti-Fascist government of unity'. But this unity was at the CNT's expense, for its rank and file, to whom the concept of 'power' was still anathema, was disgusted. Juan Manuel Molina, CNT Under-Secretary for Defence in the Generalitat, was cursed as a traitor to the anarchist revolution.19 Furthermore, the POUM's hostile newspaper reports on the Stalinist purges in the USSR risked a backlash from the Republic's one great benefactor. By December 1936 the POUM's own representative in the Generalitat, Councillor for Justice
Andreu Nin, had been expelled under PSUC pressure; by June 1937 he was dead at the hands of the NKVD.
Set against, yet inseparable from, this 'division' was another 'unity': the united front against the revolutionary left established by the PSUC in alliance with organizations such as the Catalan Federation of Guilds and Corporations of Small Traders and Manufacturers (GEPCI) and President Companys's Catalan Esquerra Party. This dispute would burst open in the Barcelona 'May Days' of 1937.
The PCE, as the Communist Party of all Spain, also sought a united front of those who, as defined by Raymond Carr, could contribute their skills to the making of victory. Helen Graham also underlines the PCE's flexible appeal to a wide constituency in the middle and working classes. For sceptics at the time, however, '[the PCE's] commonsense policies either concealed a humiliating sacrifice of national policy to Russian pressure or an attempt by a small party to infiltrate the whole machinery of state'.20
This same party and Prieto, the PSOE Minister of Defence, had been allies in government under (and, as has been seen, against) the then Prime Minister, Largo Caballero. But the PCE-Prieto alignment was not to last, for Prieto came to see the PCE as a liability, and vice versa. Such were the political tectonics underlying the Popular Front.
Within the Republican army, the greater organizational unity and combat proficiency forged during the first year of the war could not prevent an accumulation of military setbacks and corrosive infighting. However, during the period July 1936-March 1939 the experiences of men and women in Republican Spain reached beyond waging a military war against the Nationalist rebels. Should the significance of developments in Republican Spain be judged solely on the criterion of whether they helped or hindered that war effort? If the answer is no, then a disunity of outlook in the Republican zones can be seen positively - as political, cultural and economic pluralism in action. Moreover, because of the complexity of Spain's history, this diversity was always likely to prevail, though it did not prevent Franco from branding all Republicans as 'reds', united in betrayal of the Patria.
Was this article helpful?