The Second Republic, a democratic dream that was proclaimed 90 years ago without violence | Culture


The Republic was a “wonderful dream turned into a happy reality,” said Manuel Bartolomé Cossío weeks after its proclamation. “The Republic is the work of the people,” wrote Gonzalo Queipo de Llano, then Captain General of Madrid. He arrived with “mass enthusiasm and overflowing enthusiasm”, in a “drunken enthusiasm,” recalled Valeriano Orobón Fernández, anarcho-syndicalist delegate at the International Workers’ Association.

The people, that collective protagonist to whom everyone appealed, celebrated it. Everyone was in the street that April 14, 1931. In reality, the people of Madrid, Barcelona and the main cities of Spain had been celebrating the triumph of the republican-socialist candidacies in the municipal elections for two days. The crowd took to the streets singing the Irrigation Hymn Y La Marsellesa. There were men, many women, workers, students and professionals. The middle class “threw itself towards the Republic” in the face of the “disorientation of the conservative elements,” wrote José María Gil-Robles a few years later.

And the scene was repeated in all large and small cities, as can be seen in the press, in the photographs of the time, in the extraordinary documentaries kept in the Spanish Film Library and in the numerous testimonies of contemporaries who wanted to record that great change that seemed to have some magic, arriving peacefully, without blood.

Poster of the Second Spanish Republic.
Poster of the Second Spanish Republic.NATIONAL LIBRARY OF SPAIN

Only Juan de la Cierva proposed resorting to arms to avoid the bankruptcy of the Monarchy. The other ministers, led by the count of Romanones, acknowledged the defeat of the monarchical candidates in most of the provincial capitals, 41 out of 50. Admiral Juan Bautista Aznar, President of the Government, resigned on the night of 13. Niceto Alcalá Zamora, on behalf of the revolutionary committee, demanded that the king leave the country. “The elections held on Sunday clearly reveal to me that I do not have the love of my people today,” Alfonso XIII wrote in the note with which he said goodbye to the Spanish, before leaving the Royal Palace on the night of Tuesday, April 14. When he arrived in Paris, he declared that the Republic was “a storm that will pass quickly.”

Until the Second Republic arrived, Spanish society seemed to remain somewhat aloof from the difficulties and upheavals that have affected most European countries since 1914. Spain had not participated in the First World War and did not suffer, therefore, the strong commotion that that war caused, with the fall of the empires and their servants, the demobilization of millions of ex-combatants and the indebtedness to pay the enormous sums of money dedicated to the war effort.

When the war took an unfavorable course for the central empires, almost decisive since the summer of 1918, the idea of ​​the “national community” began to disintegrate and internal tensions generated a clear polarization between the military and conservative groups, who clung to to war and power, and social movements for peace that in some cities of Austria, Hungary and especially in Germany, created workers ‘and soldiers’ councils according to the model of the two Russian revolutions. The terrible consequences of the war, the high cost of living and the hundreds of thousands of deaths on the battlefields gave a boost to these movements.

Presentation of the Provisional Government of the Second Republic in the Congress of Deputies on July 14, 1931. In the first row, from left to right: Santiago Casares Quiroga, Manuel Azaña, Fernando de los Ríos, Alejandro Lerroux and Niceto Alcalá Zamora.
Presentation of the Provisional Government of the Second Republic in the Congress of Deputies on July 14, 1931. In the first row, from left to right: Santiago Casares Quiroga, Manuel Azaña, Fernando de los Ríos, Alejandro Lerroux and Niceto Alcalá Zamora.ALFONSO

In Hungary the disintegration of the imperial authority began on October 31, 1918 when a battalion refused to obey orders to leave for the front, the workers of Budapest declared a general strike and power passed almost without resistance or violence into the hands of the democratic opposition. In Germany, amid rumors of a coup at the Kaiser’s headquarters in Spa, there were naval mutinies and an insurrection of sailors in Kiel on 3 and 4 November. In Austria, after several insurrections of sailors and councils of soldiers and workers, the military power collapsed and the Austrian Republic was declared on November 12.

The crowd gathers in Plaça de Catalunya (Barcelona), on April 14, 1931.
The crowd gathers in Plaça de Catalunya (Barcelona), on April 14, 1931.General Administration Archive

The Spanish Monarchy was not brought down by a war, but by its inability to offer the Spanish a transition from an oligarchic and caciquil regime to a reformist and democratic one. The fall of the Primo de Rivera dictatorship on January 28, 1930 generated a process of political radicalization and a rise in republicanism. In this mobilization for the Republic, old conservatives came together who decided to abandon the king, lifelong republicans, new republicans, socialists convinced that they had to influence the movement from within, and prominent intellectuals. All together they sealed the commitment to prepare the end of the Monarchy and to bring the Republic.

At the end of 1931, with Niceto Alcalá Zamora as President of the Republic and Manuel Azaña as President of the Government, Spain was a parliamentary and constitutional republic. In the first two years of the Republic, the organization of the army was undertaken, the separation of the Church from the State and radical and profound measures were taken on the distribution of land ownership, the wages of the working classes, labor protection and employment. public education. Never in the history of Spain has there been such an intense and accelerated period of change and conflict, of democratic advances and social conquests.

But at the same time, republican legislation brought to the fore some of the tensions germinated during the previous two decades with industrialization, urban growth, and class conflicts. Thus a chasm was opened between several antagonistic cultural worlds, between practicing Catholics and convinced anticlericals, masters and workers, Church and State, order and revolution.

Proclamation of the Republic in Barcelona.
Proclamation of the Republic in Barcelona. General Administration Archive

As a consequence of these antagonisms, the Republic encountered enormous difficulties in consolidating itself and had to face strong challenges from above and below. He spent two years of relative stability, a second biennium of political instability, and a final few months of harassment and demolition. From the photograph of a popular festival in the streets of Madrid in April 1931 to the armed confrontations in July 1936, to support or stop the coup, five years passed.

Nothing was predetermined, nor is it true, as can be seen through rigorous research, that “polarization” and violence were greater than in Italy, Germany or Austria before the destruction of democracy. All the republics that arose in Europe between 1910 and 1931 were toppled, except the Irish one, by far-right or fascist authoritarian movements. They were democratic attempts at times of turmoil, conflict and violence. But nothing to do with what followed: intimidation, terror, and mass organized crime. Although it seems increasingly difficult to overcome political acrimony and ignorance about that history.

Julian Casanova He is a professor of Contemporary History at the University of Zaragoza.


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