- The Spanish Republic and Civil War
Fernando del Rey Reguillo, in his book Paisanos en lucha: Exclusión política y violencia en la Segunda República española (2008), insists that politics must be placed within the framework of economics, social movements, and culture in approaching the history of the Spanish Second Republic. He puts forward an analysis, grounded in archival [End Page 465] research at the local level, that challenges the macro-historical perspective of traditional structural approaches to the history of 1930s Spain (Rey Reguillo, p. 20). Along with scholars such as Rey Reguillo and Michael Seidman, Julián Casanova is at his best when he describes the role of the individual immersed in local politics, providing critical insights into the broader context of the tumultuous history of the Spanish Civil War. Lesser-known figures such as the "republican, socialist, feminist" mayor of a small town in Aragon, María Domínguez, illustrate the conflicts that faced the Republic between 1931 and 1939. Domínguez wrote for a periodical, taught in a small school, and governed at the local level. Tragically, she was murdered in the terror that blighted the summer and fall of 1936 in almost all parts of Spain, "taken for a walk" and shot by fellow townspeople, accused of political crimes against the state (p. 190).
Casanova argues that Spain's Second Republic was undermined by "challenges from above and below" (p. 2). Thus "the Republic could not neutralize" ingrained power structures "with such a long history in Spain" (p. 24). The first chapter highlights the celebrations that accompanied the declaration of the Republic across the nation. Casanova points to the moderate nature of the policies pursued by a government consisting of republicans and socialists. Landowners, church officials, and many members of the military, however, never reconciled themselves to a center-left coalition and a program of agrarian reform, secularization, and political modernization. Furthermore, the extreme left, consisting of socialist and anarchist trade unions and political parties, oscillated between lukewarm support for and outright opposition to the Republic. Strikes fueled by local grievances—anger over the conduct of governing officials, for example—often met with heavy-handed responses from the authorities, creating a cycle of confrontation and violence. Rivalry between the socialist UGT (General Union of Workers), which had received backing from the government, and the anarchist CNT (National Confederation of Labor) exacerbated the already tense situation. This culminated in calls for armed insurrection in 1932, 1933, and 1934. In the south, Assault Guards and Civil Guards massacred anarchists in the small town of Casas Viejas in January 1933. In October 1934, when the center-right government elected the year before invited the CEDA (Spanish Confederation of the Autonomous Right), a party committed to defending "Christian civilization" and to revising the constitution of 1931, to join the government, it was the socialists' turn (p. 70). Miners in Asturias immediately rose up, as they believed the CEDA would dismantle democratic institutions and quickly establish an authoritarian regime. Although [End Page 466] Casanova shows that the miners' revolt, the most dramatic example of the aborted revolution of 1934, fundamentally altered the political landscape in Spain, he does not believe that subsequent events ineluctably degenerated into chaos and violence. To the contrary, Casanova maintains that these failures hastened the decline of revolutionary sentiment on the left, while it was the non-republican right that increasingly looked toward extra-parliamentary solutions to the country's political travails after 1934 (p. 112).
In spite of the fact that entrenched elites, from caciques (local party bosses) to churchmen and generals, represented major obstacles to the consolidation of the Second Republic, international intervention in many ways decided the outcome of the civil war (p. 235). The rise of authoritarianism and the declension of democracy in interwar Europe is deftly described by Casanova throughout the book as a subtext to political polarization in Spain. Events in Italy, Germany, and Austria certainly had not determined the situation in Spain by 1934...