Despite being an extemely interesting period in history, the Spanish Civil War is not all that well known. Perhaps this is because many of the aspects of the winning side, the right-wing nationalists led by the fascist Franco and supported by Hitler and Mussolini, are so similar to many of the ruling or controlling interests in the US. Perhaps it is because the losing side, that of the liberals, socialists, anarchists, and communists, had core values that are much easier for the average person to identify with. Or maybe it was because it was another example where the Church took the complete wrong side, as they openly praised the fascist Franco and took an active role in helping him with his goals whenever it could. Maybe it has to do with the fact that powerful business interests in the US and elsewhere helped Franco overthrow a legitimately elected democratic government. Or perhaps because the United States giving aid to Franco and preventing aid from reaching the Spanish government (despite polls in the US showing overwhelming public support for the left-wing government, henceforth referred to as the Republic), undermines the image of the United States being a warrior for freedom and democracy in the period surrounding World War II. But perhaps I should get started.
The Spanish Civil War began in 1936 and ended in 1939, right before Hitler's invasion of Czechoslovakia. The war began after a new left-wing government was elected in 1936. The government was not revolutionary, but it was concerned with progressive programs for agrarian reform and it was also in favor of the separation of church and state. This last measure was incredibly irritating for the Church of Spain, who had been a major player in the government and had received large subsidies for centuries. Spain was an extemely polarized country between left and right before the election. Beevor describes the campaigning done by the right:
Millions of leaflets were distributed saying that a victory for the left would produce 'an arming of the mob, the burning of banks and private houses, the division of property and land, looting and the sharing out of your women'. The finance for such a campaign came from the landowners, large companies and the Catholic Church, which hurried to bless the [right-wing] alliance with the idea that a vote for the right was a vote for Christ
The war started when a group of generals, later to be led by Franco, decided to overthrow the democratically elected government on July 18th, 1936. The right, called the nationalists,
argued that they represented the cause of Christianity, order and Western civilization against 'Asiatic Communism'.On the other side, the Republic portrayed itself as representing
the cause of democracy, freedom and englightenment against fascism
But Beevor also says that
The Spanish Civil War has so often been portrayed as a clash between left and right, but this is a misleading simplification. Two other axes of conflict emerged: state centralism against regional independence and authoritarianism against the freedom of the individual. The nationalist forces of the right were much more coherent becuase, with only minor exceptions, they combined three cohesive extremes. They were right wing, centralist, and authoritarian at the same time. The Republic, on the other hand, represented a cauldron of incompatibilities and mutual suspicions, with centralists and authoritarians, especially the communists, opposed by regionalists and libertarians
I think the Spanish Civil War is interesting for a few of the following reasons, and I plan to go into more depth on each in the future.
the strangest city in the world today, the city of anarcho-syndicalism supporting democracy, of anarchists keeping order, and anti-political philosophers wielding power
The anarchists, despite their superior numbers, did not impose their own system on the population though. The anarchist Garcia Oliver described the alternatives :
'Libertarian communism, which is tantamount to an anarchist dictatorship, or democracy which signified collaboration.'Beevor notes
Imposing their social and economic self-management on the rest of the population appeared to violate libertarian ideals more than collaborating with political parties. Abad de Santillan [an anarchist] said that they did not believe in any form of dictatorship, including their own
Many people did join collective ventures during this time though, and agricultural production on collectivized land increased by 20% over what it was previously. Many small farmers who owned their own land also voluntarily joined the collectives. Meanwhile, on the industrial side, production was largely controlled by the unions formed by the workers.
If anyone is interested in learning more about the Spanish Civil War, I would definitely recommend this book. It was a #1 bestseller in Spain and seems to be most widely recognized account of the war.