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  • From Mobilization to Civil War: The Politics of Polarization in the Spanish City of Gijón, 1900–1937
  • Gary W. McDonogh
From Mobilization to Civil War: The Politics of Polarization in the Spanish City of Gijón, 1900–1937. By Pamela Beth Radcliff (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996. xviii plus 354pp. $59.95).

In 1999, as Spaniards reflect on last century’s Generation of ‘98 and the cataclysmic changes that have followed, historians and citizens still face questions about the struggles that pitted many Spains against each other. Radcliff’s carefully structured analysis of place and process in Gijón illuminates the ways in which powerful upheavals took shape in smaller yet nonetheless important cities. Hence she allows us to re-explore the human choices and actions that led to fratricidal destruction.

Gijón provides an excellent vantage point as a smaller industrial city, developing later than Madrid and Barcelona, whose neighborhoods, personalities and events can be clarified by close readings in their economic, political and socio-cultural meanings. Yet Radcliff consistently underscores the knowledge and associations that linked both local working classes and elites to other areas of Spain. While Asturias took national stage most clearly under the Republic, we understand its conflicts within the framework of both national changes and local forces that pitted a “Gijón of lights” against smoke-darkened neighborhoods.

Radcliff begins with a complex presentation of the city around 1900, blending economic development with spacial transformation. Urban growth included elegant new central zones and the suburban periphery where industry and housing without infrastructure demarcated spacial and social polarization. Her maps [End Page 219] clearly guide the reader in understanding the fundamental places of urban confrontation which recur throughout the next three decades (although I lament the absence of photographs which would give more life and faces to urban promenades and slums). She adds a careful discussion of Restoration politics, identifying elite players in conflicts that follow as well as nascent organizations among industrial workers.

In her examination of the economics and demography of development, Radcliff carefully distinguishes the ideological constructions of social divisions from residence and mobility that complicated the city and its politics. Moreover, she carefully links demographic development to working class culture embodied in associations and neighborhoods through a stabilization of population and repetition of conflicts over time. Radcliff also underscores how different interests, especially those of women, related to the conflictive realms of republican, socialist and anarchist public discourse. Her use of periodical and archival sources here is extended by judicious reference to works in geography, social theory and anthropology that illuminate general and concrete issues of the formation of a public sphere. The juxtaposition of the domestic concerns and the polarized complexities of the Miss Gijón pageant with male-dominated activities of taverns, unionization and education, for example, allow us to understand how dramatic political events could still encompass only part of the population even on the eve of the Civil War.

In later sections, Radcliff examines processes evolving between 1900 and 1936, focussing on republican and worker institutions, oppositional culture, and conflicts. The first section provides a more traditional examination of urban political history, centered on the conflicts between Republican parties and anarchosyndicalist movements. Radcliff defines a continuing tension between opposition to a conservative central government (1900—1930), which brought together potential allies on the left, and the actual models of politics and government that divided them. From the elections of 1909, in which Republicans took over the city council, to paralyzing divisions during the Republic itself, the author cogently structures debates and parties while underscoring the continuing currents that separated forces of reform.

The next section recasts politics through oppositional culture. Radcliff’s definition of this elusive phenomenon includes the ideologies of different groups/political formations and the actions that nuanced them. Thus, Republican notions of a broader nation of citizens who might differ in class and values and the workers’ vision of a more just and egalitarian Spain were both challenged by events in the streets. It is striking, for example, to see their shared anti-clericalism underpinning one of the few areas in which any headway was made in reform. Meanwhile, patronal...

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