Even after the collapse of Catalonia, Prime Minister Negrin was determined to fight on, still hoping against hope that the fortunes of the Republic would be transformed once a general European war broke out, in which the western democracies would at last have to confront Hitler's Germany. A number of military leaders, however, including Colonel Segismundo Casado, commander of the Republican Army of the Centre, thought that continuing the war at this point was simply irresponsible. In Madrid, food was scarce and living conditions were terrible. Morale in the Republican army was low. What was the point of more deaths?
Casado entered into negotiations with Franco's chief of intelligence in Burgos, Colonel Ungria, confident that some terms better than simple unconditional surrender could at this late stage still be achieved. He also began planning a coup against Negrin and his Communist backers. By early March, even General Miaja agreed with Casado's plans, and on 5 March Casado set up a so-called national council in Madrid and informed Negrin of his rebellion. Uncertainty and political confusion were rife, not just in Madrid, but throughout Republican Spain. No one was sure who had what authority, or who would follow any orders. Negrin gave up, and flew out of the country, accompanied by various Communist luminaries. But Communist army commanders in and around Madrid chose to attack Casado, and for one last, desperate time, there was a civil war within the civil war in Republican Spain.
By 12 March the Communist resistance had failed. Two of its leaders were executed, the latest Republicans to die in internecine disputes instead of in fighting the Nationalists. Others were imprisoned, and were still in gaol when the Nationalists entered Madrid. Casado discovered that his hopes of negotiating anything with Franco were entirely groundless. The terms remained unconditional surrender.
In the south and the centre, Nationalist armies continued to advance while the opposing forces disintegrated. On Tuesday, 28 March, the Nationalists, headed by General Espinosa de los Monteros, entered Madrid. In the next few days, the scene was repeated in Valencia, Jaén, Almeria and other southern cities. Fifth columnists emerged full of joy and relief to greet the Nationalist conquerors, and Nationalist flags appeared as if by magic on balconies. On 1 April, Franco issued the last communique of the war. 'Having captured and disarmed the red army, Nationalist troops today took their last objectives. The war is finished.'
Republican troops either melted away and headed for home, or found themselves rounded up in holding camps. Thousands of Republican activists made desperate attempts to leave the country. But they were unsuccessful. There could be no repetition of the huge exodus into France a few months earlier. The Republic now had no frontier with France or Portugal. Nationalist ships patrolled the Mediterranean, making escape by sea a forlorn hope for almost all of the up to 60,000 people thronging the docks of Alicante and other southern ports. Casado was one of the very few to be rescued. Some who found themselves trapped committed suicide rather than face the Francoist justice that was to come.
The fighting was over, but in some senses the war continued. Military justice officials were understandably keen to prosecute those suspected of participating in the Republican repression during the war. Anyone convicted of a 'crime of blood' of this kind could expect the death penalty. But the immediate postwar repression went much further than this. The rebel generals of 1936 saw themselves as opponents not just of the Second Republic as a constitutional and political system, but also of a
perverted ideology that they called 'red' or Communist. Throughout the war, the Nationalists called their opponents los rojos, 'the reds', just as the Republicans called theirs 'the fascists'. Neither label was accurate, but they summed up succinctly the sense among the deeply committed on each side that the other represented a completely unacceptable set of values.
The victors were now determined to create their own new but traditional Spain, and to eradicate 'red' Spain for ever. High-ranking army officers, and political and trade union leaders at national and local levels who had played a significant role in the Republican war effort, or who had participated in the Popular Front before the war broke out, were charged with treachery and military rebellion, even though it was their accusers and judges who had rebelled in 1936. They were brought before military courts. If they were found guilty - and the standards used to evaluate evidence were far from reassuring - they were executed or condemned to long terms of imprisonment. These sentences were punishment for individual actions that hindered the cause of true Spain, as the judges saw it. They also regarded them as a way of purging the national body of corrupting influences.
Estimates of the numbers executed in the postwar repression have varied widely, but recent research, province by province, now points to a total of probably about 50,000. This figure does not include the many thousands killed in lawless reprisals in the early stages of the war, whose exact numbers will probably never be known. The new regime was not interested in reconciliation. It was interested in retribution, and in cutting out diseased members from Spanish society, lest they should infect others. The terminology of impurity and disease recorded the regime's view of Republican politics as pathological and contaminating.
Prisons were severely overcrowded, with over 200,000 inmates at the peak, in dire conditions, with inadequate food and little sanitation. Whole prisons were set up for women, and women were among those executed. The sheer scale of the prison population represented such a problem, even after executions had reduced the numbers, that from 1941 it was drastically diminished by widespread grants of parole and the commutation of sentences. There was no total amnesty for civil war actions, however, until 31 March 1969.
In addition to the prisons, work camps were established. The new regime used prison labour under military discipline, and with meagre rations, to rebuild towns, roads and railways. They were also put to work on other projects, including the enormous basilica hewn out of solid rock at the Valle de los Caidos, the Valley of the Fallen, near Philip Il's Escorial palace, north-west of Madrid. This vast, ugly church became José Antonio Primo de Rivera's mausoleum, and ultimately Franco's. In Francoist discourse, prison labour was a way of permitting offenders to redeem themselves, a kind of penance that would fit them once more for membership of the national community. Many did not survive to see this benefit.
The Law of Political Responsibilities of 9 February 1939 made it a civil offence to have backed the Popular Front before the war, or impeded the Nationalists during it. This extraordinary, retrospective legislation was designed to enable the regime to confiscate property and impose fines on those who were found guilty, or if necessary their heirs. It permitted a massive forced transfer of property and resources from Republican organisations and individuals to Franco's state.
Republican supporters suffered in other ways too. Purge commissions were established for the professions, especially teaching, and for many other occupation groups. Anyone who did not meet the requirements of proven loyalty to the Nationalist movement (even from before it existed!) could be dismissed, demoted, barred from future promotion or relocated far from home. The purge commissions affected tens of thousands of people. They are perhaps the clearest example of the Franco regime's determination not just to punish its enemies, but to reshape Spanish society and culture. No one regarded as ideologically unreliable would be allowed to hold a position of responsibility or influence, or even, in many cases, to find employment at all.
Creating a new Spain that was authoritarian, anti-democratic, Catholic, conservative and anti-intellectual was facilitated by the tragic exodus of those who managed to get out. Soldiers, politicians, propagandists and trade unionists had streamed across the Catalan border into France in January and February. A whole generation of famous writers, poets, artists and musicians also left the country at the end of the war, including the composer Manuel de Falla, the poets Rafael Alberti and Jorge Guillen, the film director Luis Bunuel and, for 10 years, the artist Salvador Dali. The poet Antonio Machado died of pneumonia while heading into exile in 1939. But the loss to Spanish cultural and intellectual life was even greater than this would suggest. Along with these giants there also went into exile, often for a lifetime, large numbers of university professors, lawyers, researchers, doctors and teachers. Francoism reshaped Spain not just politically and socially, but also intellectually.
The first experience of exile for most of the 400,000 refugees in France was as grim as anything they had endured during the war, or even worse. The reluctant French authorities provided at first no shelter, no medicine and almost no food. Refugees attempted to survive in what were essentially concentration camps on the windswept, winter coast, where they were prey to exposure, malnutrition and disease. Tens of thousands decided to risk returning to Spain. Those who did not, and who survived the conditions, gradually got better shelter, or found a way of moving away from the frontier and even, if they were lucky, getting passage on a boat to Mexico.
When the long-expected European war broke out in September 1939, thousands of Republican refugee soldiers enlisted in the French army or the French Foreign Legion, or labour battalions. For them, the war against fascism, lost in Spain, had recommenced. After the fall of France in 1940, this took the new form of participation in the French resistance against the German occupiers or their Vichy allies. But most Republican refugees were powerless against the German advance. Several thousand were transported to labour camps and concentration camps. Mauthausen and Oranienburg became part of the tragic itinerary that had begun in Madrid, or Barcelona, or any other of Spain's towns and villages in 1936.
The President of the Catalan Generalitat, Luis Companys, was handed back to Franco by the Nazis, and was executed. His fate was shared by other well-known Republican leaders. Former Prime Minister Francisco Largo Caballero managed to survive a German labour camp until the end of the Second World War, but then died of its effects. It was a peculiarly cruel end for a dedicated trade unionist who had striven to improve the working conditions of ordinary labouring men and women in Spain at the beginning of the Second Republic.
Rump Republican, Basque and Catalan governments all continued to exist in exile. Political parties that were banned in Spain also survived, after a fashion, in exile. In Spain itself, sporadic guerrilla operations against the regime irritated and occasionally troubled the authorities over several years. But the Spanish Civil War was over, and the Republic was utterly defeated, with its leaders killed, imprisoned or scattered, and its dreams destroyed.
Conclusion and consequences
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