The Spanish Civil War

BBC (1983)

This is the first of two posts concerning the 1936 Spanish Revolution – which the US and its western allies refer to as the Spanish Civil War. This BBC documentary offers a more or less conventional pro-capitalist interpretation of events. Tomorrow I will post an alternative view by Spanish anarchists who actively participated in the revolution.

Ironically, although Spain was the birthplace of guerilla warfare,* Stalin (the only foreign leader willing to sell them arms) forced the Spanish Republic to engage in a conventional war against overwhelmingly superior forces.

Owing to the massive grassroots mobilization behind the Republic, guerilla warfare would have had a far greater chance of success (as it ultimately did in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan).

When Franco ultimately crushed Spain’s first republic in 1939, it would result in a brutal fascist dictatorship lasting 36 years.

Part 1 describes

  • the non-violent fall of the Spanish monarchy in 1931, resulting in the establishment of Spain’s second Republic
  • land reform of a semi-feudal system in which landless peasants lived in virtual slavery
  • the creation of 10,000 non-church schools in a country with 50% illiteracy
  • declaration of emancipation of women and home rule for Catalonia and the Basque region

Part 2 describes

  • the 1934 takeover of the Republic’s governing coalition by fascists, who repealed most land and other reforms
  • the success of socialists, communists and anarchists in winning back the government in 1936 as the United Front
  • the move by 60,000 landless peasants to retake 3,000 farms they lost between 1934-36
  • the coup launched by Franco and thousands of Arab troops and Spanish legionaries from Spanish Morocco
  • how the grassroots resistance led by Spain’s one million anarchists became a revolution, in which they formed revolutionary committees to organize and arm the resistance and seized factories, which they turned into workers cooperatives, and to redistribute food and other necessities which they distribute to the poor.
  • how effective civilian resistance held back Franco’s forces, confining them to regions to the north and west of Madrid for nearly three years.

Part 3 describes

  • how Mussolini and Hitler supported Franco with arms, funding and troops, while western Europe and the US signed a pact of “non-intervention” – allowing Roosevelt to sell Texas oil to Franco but prohibiting any western country to supply fuel or arms to the Republic.
  • how only the Soviets came to the Republic’s assistance by selling them weapons (for Spanish gold), providing air cover and coordinating the International Brigades – 40,000 international volunteers from more than a dozen countries (including most of Europe, Australia and the US).

Part 4 examines Franco’s background and that of the right wing groups that supported his coup.

Part 5 examines life inside the revolution and how Stalin’s agents and supporters in the Republican government systematically crushed it – by murdering anarchist leaders and launching a formal battle (lasting five days and leaving 500 dead) against anarchist forces in Barcelona.

Part 6 covers Franco’s final defeat of Republican forces after Stalin withdrew his support for the Republic (to pacify Hitler). It also examines the irony of Stalin and the communists forcing the Republic to wage a conventional war they couldn’t possibly win – in the country that invented guerilla warfare.


*The term was first used in 1808, when Spanish guerillas repelled Napoleon’s invasion of Spain. It refers to the use of a small, mobile force competing against a larger, more unwieldy one.

 

 

 

 

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