The Spanish Civil War is one of the most memorable periods in history. It lasted for three years from 1936 to 1939. However, it all began during the 1930s when large, influential changes occurred throughout the country that created friction between various groups and people of all classes.
The Importance of Spain in Europe…
Spain was very important in the direction that Europe was heading. If it fell to the Nationalists, France would become surrounded by Fascism and if it were to be invaded, the alliances between other anti-fascist countries would be weakened. There would be one less army to stand up to them. Spain also had naval bases that could be used by the Fascists to control shipping.
Background to the War…
It was during the 1930s that Spain became a very divided country. It was made up of the right-wing: monarchists, landowners, employers, the Roman Catholic Church and the army and the left-wing: workers, trade unions, socialists and peasants. The divide was as a result of the collapse of the Military dictatorship that had ruled Spain since 1923. As well as that in 1931 King Alfonzo had unresistingly abdicated as King, bringing down the monarchy.
This brought the Republicans into power, who wanted to reform the political system within Spain, bringing hope to millions. A revolution was occurring like never before and was something never seen within Europe. Anticlericalism spread throughout the country as liberal republicans and socialist alike wanted to rid the hold the Church had on society. Due to the growing resentment violence erupted and half a dozen convents were destroyed. With that the Republicans opened nearly 10,000 state schools.
Of course the right wing opposition did not approve of any of the reforms made and so fought to go back into power to undo all of the changes. During the six years leading up to 1936, both parties had periods in power. However, the country was so divided that the army eventually rebelled in 1936 and forcibly removed the Republicans from power.
As mentioned previously the war was fought between the right-wing and left-wing. The left-wing, led by Azana, were made up of Republicans who wanted Communism: the belief in a society without different social classes… all property is owned by the community rather than individuals. Whereas the right-wing, led by General Franco, were made up of Nationalists who had similar desires to the Fascists: a political system headed by a dictator in which the government controls business and labor and opposition is not permitted. At the time this included Hitler (Germany) and Mussolini (Italy).
As the Nationalists and the Fascists had similar interests, Germany and Italy sent thousands of troops and weapons to fight the Republicans. The Republicans on the other hand only had help from the Soviet Union who sent weapons and supplies. However, the only help they received for troops were in the form of volunteers. Volunteers came from all over Europe and the USA to aid in the fight against Fascism. The issue with this was that not many were military trained and therefore stood at a disadvantage.
France and Britain at the time were in an awkward situation because although they did not want the Nationalists to win (as that would strengthen the Fascist alliance between Germany and Italy). They also did not want the Republicans to win as communism was seen as a threat to world peace. Due to this the two countries set up a Non-Intervention Committee that blocked aid reaching Spain.
The Catalans and the Basques were areas within Spain that saw themselves independent from the rest of the country due to their history and heritage. They had their own languages and their own way of life. Due to this they held out much stronger than the rest of Spain and the impact of the Nationalists was minimal.
Despite all of the efforts in 1939, Republican resistance collapsed and Russia withdrew its support. Madrid was the last to fall to the Nationalists in March 1939. After this the Republicans surrendered and the war finally came to an end.
The win of the Nationalists meant that Hitlers position in Europe grew stronger as he had a potential ally in General Franco. The win also made German and Italy firm allies. Many people saw this as the prelude to the Second World War. Either way the three year war resulted in the deaths of over 500,000 lives.