Background to the Spanish Civil War

This chronology is an ongoing project covering the Spanish Civil War, and the events leading up to it, along with the consequences for Spain. It builds on this timeline of the civil war in Barcelona.

What you can see below is still very early in the draft. I’m still throwing stuff randomly at it, and watching it take shape. At the moment, much is taken from Wikipedia and the project is an attempt to build on this.


In 1898 Spain lost its last major overseas provinces (Cuba, Guam, Puerto Rico and the Philippines) in the Spanish-American War. The rapid collapse was perceived as a disaster in Spain, undermining the credibility of both the government and associated ideologies and almost led to a military coup d’état led by Camilo Polavieja. This was the start of the system’s weakening, giving oxygen to all manner of conflicting opposition movements at a local and national level


Tragic Week (in Catalan la Setmana Tràgica, in Spanish la Semana Trágica) (July 25 – August 2, 1909) is the name used for a series of bloody confrontations between the Spanish army and the working classes of Barcelona and other cities of Catalonia (Spain), backed by anarchists, socialists and republicans, during the last week of July 1909. It was caused by the calling-up of reserve troops by Prime Minister Antonio Maura to be sent as reinforcements when Spain renewed military-colonial activity in Morocco on July 9, in what is known as the Second Rif War.

1910 CNT founded in Barcelona

1920 –1926 Rif War


In 1921 the Spanish army in north-eastern Morocco collapsed when defeated by the forces of Abd el-Krim, in what became known in Spain as the disaster of Annual. The Spanish were pushed back and during the following five years, occasional battles were fought between the two. In a bid to break the stalemate, the Spanish military turned to the use of chemical weapons against the Riffians.

Superior manpower and technology soon resolved the course of the war in favour of France and Spain. The French troops pushed through from the south while the Spanish fleet secured Alhucemas Bay by an amphibious landing, and began attacking from the north. After one year of bitter resistance, Abd el-Krim, the leader of both the tribes, surrendered to French authorities, and in 1926 Spanish Morocco was finally retaken.

The unpopularity of the war in Spain, however, and the humiliating initial failure of the Spanish military, contributed to the instability of the Spanish government and the military coup of 1923.

Communist Party of Spain formed, after a split from the PSOE.

1923, Miguel Primo de Rivera came to power in a military coup, and instituted new polices, including handing monolpolistic control of trade union power to the UGT, and a sweeping programme of public works.

With the support of Alfonso XIII and the army Primo de Rivera led a military coup in September 1923. He promised to eliminate corruption and to regenerate Spain. In order to do this he suspended the constitution, established martial law and imposed a strict system of censorship.

Primo de Rivera initially said he would rule for only 90 days, however, he broke this promise and remained in power. Little social reform took place but he tried to reduce unemployment by spending money on public works. To pay for this Primo de Rivera introduced higher taxes on the rich. When they complained he changed his policies and attempted to raise money by public loans. This caused rapid inflation and after losing support of the army was forced to resign in January 1930.

Miguel Primo de Rivera, the father of José Antonio Primo de Rivera, died from diabetes on 16th March 1930.

14 April 1931. Second Spanish Republic declared.

April 14  The Left triumphs in municipal elections

Alfonso XIII, in an attempt to return gradually to the previous system and restore his prestige, called on General Dámaso Berenguer to form a government. This failed utterly, as the King was considered a supporter of the dictatorship, and more and more political forces called for the establishment of a republic. Berenguer resigned and the King gave the government to Admiral Aznar. Aznar called for local elections on April 12, 1931 in order to satisfy the democrats and republicans, to replace the dictatorship’s local governments and to gradually re-introduce the restoration.

Although the monarchists had not lost all their support, the republican and socialist parties won a major victory. Street riots ensued, calling for the removal of the monarchy. The army declared that they would not defend the King and he fled Spain. The Second Spanish Republic was immediately established under a provisional government led by Niceto Alcalá-Zamora.

King Alfonso XIII, statement (14th April 1931)

Sunday’s elections have shown me that I no longer enjoy the love of my people. I could very easily find means to support my royal powers against all comers, but I am determined to have nothing to do with setting one of my countrymen against another in a fratricidal civil war. Thus, until the nation speaks, I shall deliberately suspend the use of my royal prerogative.

1936-1939: the Spanish Civil War by Augustin Souchy Chapter 11 from Augustin Souchy’s autobiography, Beware! Anarchist: A Life for Freedom.

The municipal elections of April 14, 1931 were followed by a drastic change in the political panorama of Spain. The Republicans won a majority, an unmmistakable writing on the wall for the military government. The king fled, the monarchy disintegrated, the republic was victorious. All this in one day and without bloodshed.


burning of religious buildings in May 1931. He controversially remarked that burning of “all the convents in Spain was not worth the life of a single Republican”.

28 June 1931. The Left triumphs in elections

Elections to a constituent Cortes in June 1931 returned a large majority of Republicans and Socialists, with the PSOE gaining 116 seats and Lerroux’s Radical Party 94.[18] It was controlled by a Republican-Socialist coalition, members of which had differing objectives. Some more conservative parts believed the removal of the monarchy was itself, the Socialists and leftist Republicans demand much wider reforms.[17] Socialist ambitions were restrained, however.

16th October 1931, Azaña replaced Niceto Alcala Zamora as prime minister. With the support of the Socialist Party (PSOE) he attempted to introduce agrarian reform and regional autonomy. However, these measures were blocked in the Cortes.

December 9, 1931, a new constitution, the Spanish Constitution of 1931, was declared.[26] After a first constitutional draft prepared by Ángel Ossorio y Gallardo and others was rejected, a much more daring text creating a ‘democratic republic of workers of every class’, replaced it.[27] It included large reforms, and was liberal and democratic and nature, and welcomed by the Republican-Socialist coalition. It appalled landowners, industrialists, the organised church, and army officers


10th August

The failed military coup led by José Sanjurjo on 10th August, 1932, rallied support for Azaña’s government. It was now possible for him to get the Agrarian Reform Bill and the Catalan Statute passed by the Cortes. However, the modernization programme of the Azaña administration was undermined by a lack of financial resources.


Charlotte Haldane visited Spain with John Haldane in 1933. Charlotte later wrote about their experiences in her autobiography, Truth Will Out (1949) Spartacus

The poverty was tragic. It was bad in Cordoba, worse in Granada, almost universal in Seville. Everywhere was economic, mental and physical depression. There was a lot of local opposition to the Republic, led and organized by the Church. The Government’s natural idealistic incompetence was encouraged by systematic sabotage of every project attempted. The male working population was almost unanimously anarchist. The CNT and particularly the FAI were the strongest revolutionary parties. Socialism and Communism, or rather the Trotskyist deviation from that political creed, were in the minority. But almost the entire female population was firmly attached to Church politics, under the spiritual and political domination of the priesthood. Underneath all the beauty and glamour of the landscape, the architecture, the tradition, the romance, were rumblings of the political earthquake to come.

October 29, 1933, he launched Falange Española (“Spanish Phalanx”), a nationalist party inspired by Fascism. The foundational convention was held in the Theatre of Comedy of Madrid. During hisspeech he made his noted remark on the recourse to fists and guns when needed,

And in closing, that if what we want must in some circumstance be attained through the use of violence, that we demur not before the prospect of violence. For who has said, when they say, “Every available means except violence,” that the supreme hierarchy of moral values resides in kindness? Who has said that when our feelings are insulted, rather than react like men, we are called upon to reply amiably? Dialogue as a first step of communication is well and good. But there is no option left except fists and guns when someone offends the precepts of justice or the fatherland.

General election is won by CEDA

Led by José María Gil Robles, a coalition of centre-right and far-right parties, CEDA set up a coalition with the Radical Republican Party led by Alejandro Lerroux, which had come second in the elections. The Socialists came third. With Lerroux as head of Government, the new coalition Executive suspended most of the reforms of the previous government.

October 6

The inclusion of three CEDA ministers in the government that took office on October 1, 1934 led to a general strike and a rebellion by socialists and anarchists in Asturias on October 6. Miners in Asturias occupied the capital, Oviedo, killing officials and clergymen and burning theatres and the University. This rebellion lasted for two weeks until it was crushed by the army, led by General Francisco Franco, who in the process destroyed large parts of the city. This operation earned Franco the nickname “Butcher of Asturias”. Another rebellion by autonomists in Catalonia was also suppressed, and was followed by mass arrests and trials.

Asturian miners‘ strike of 1934 – Wikipedia

In several mining towns in Asturias, local unions gathered small arms and were determined to see the strike through. The strike began on the evening of October 4, with the miners occupying several towns, attacking and seizing local Civil and Assault Guard barracks.[2] The following day saw columns of miners advancing along the road to Oviedo, the provincial capital. With the exception of two barracks where fighting with government troops continued, the city was taken by October 6. The miners proceeded to occupy several other towns, most notably the large industrial centre of La Felguera and set up town assemblies or ‘revolutionary committees’, to govern towns they controlled.[3]

The government responded by organising troops led by Francisco Franco to retake the towns from the miners. These troops were carried on the CNT-controlled railways to Asturias without resistance by the anarchists. On October 7, delegates from the anarchist controlled seaport towns of Gijón and Avilés arrived in Oviedo to request weapons to defend against a landing of government troops. Ignored by the socialist UGT controlled committee, the delegates returned to their town empty handed and government troops met little resistance as they recaptured Gijón and Avilés the following day.[4] The capture of the two key ports effectively spelled the end of the strike

In the armed action taken against the uprising some 3,000 miners were killed in the fighting with another 30,000[5]-40,000 taken prisoner,[6] and another thousands sacked from their jobs.[7] The repression of the uprising carried out by the colonial troops was very harsh including looting, rape and summary executions.[8][9] According to Hugh Thomas 2,000 persons died in the uprising: 230-260 members of the army forces, 33 priests, 1,500 miners in combat and 200 killed in the repression (among them the journalist Luis de Sirval, who pointed out the tortures and executions and was arrested and killed by three officers of the Legion).[5] The government suspended Constitutional guarantees, almost all the left’s newspapers were closed, hundreds of town councils[10] and mixed juries were suspended and the torture in prisons was widespread.[11]

The murder of 37 priests, brothers and seminarians by the leftists in Asturias marks what some see as the beginning of the Red Terror in Spain.[12] In October 1934, the Asturian Revolution was strongly anticlerical and involved violence against priests and religious and the destruction of 58 churches, actions that had been rare until that time.[13] Turón, one of the locales of anticlerical violence, a coal-mining town in the Asturias Province, was a hub of anti-government and anticlerical agitation.[14] The De La Salle Brothers, who ran a school there aggravated the leftists who ran Turón because of their exercise of religion, specifically their flouting of the constitutional prohibition on religious instruction.[14] On October 5, 1934, the agents of the newly established local revolutionary government invaded the order’s residence on the pretext that they had concealed weapons.[14] A Passionist priest, Saint Innocencio, who had arrived the evening of October 4 was about to say Mass for the brothers.[14] He and the brothers were taken and held without trial, then summarily shot in the middle of the night in the cemetery.[14]

An account of the 1934 uprising by Asturian miners in Spain. Beginning as part of a nationwide general strike, the revolt grew into one of the most widespread rebellions of the pre-revolution era.

The suspension of the land reforms that had been attempted by the previous government, and the failure of the Asturias miners’ uprising, led to a more radical turn by the parties of the left, especially in the PSOE (Socialist Party), where the moderate Indalecio Prieto lost ground to Francisco Largo Caballero, who advocated a socialist revolution.

1934: The Asturias Revolt at

7th October Azaña was accused of encouraging these disturbances and on 7th October he was arrested and interned on a ship in Barcelona Harbour. However, no evidence could be found against him and he was released on 18th December.

October 29, 1933 Falange founded



Straperlo scandal leads to the fall of the Right-wimg government.

In 1935 they used their influence with the upper levels of the government to install the roulette in the casino Kursaal in San Sebastian but the police discovered the fraud and it was forbidden. As the business had invested a lot of money in the venture they tried to recover it by blackmailing the prime minister, Alejandro Lerroux, because his nephew was involved in the business and in the trafficking of influence. Lerroux refused to get involved and Strauss denounced the case to the president of the republic, Niceto Alcala Zamora who made it public. The reaction of the parties in the opposition caused the fall of Lerroux and his Radical Republican Party government.


1898 ‘The Disaster’: Spanish fleet lost in battle with US. Spain
loses last American colonies, including Cuba.
1906 March: Law of Jurisdictions whereby military courts given
power to try political protesters.
1909 July: ‘Tragic Week’ in Barcelona – anti-clerical and anticonscription
popular protests.
1917 State crisis centred in Catalonia. Culmination of reform
movements amongst sections of bourgeoisie, military and
working class.
1919 31 May: Alfonso XIII consecrates Spain to the Sacred Heart
of Jesus at Cerro de los A´ ngeles, a hilltop near Madrid,
marking the geographical heart of Spain.
1919–25 War in Morocco. ( July 1921, disastrous Spanish defeat at
1923 September: Military coup led by General Miguel Primo de
1930 January: Fall of Primo dictatorship.
1931 14 April: Proclamation of Second Republic. Alfonso XIII
goes into exile.
27 April: National flag decree: recuperating red, yellow and
purple republican tricolor of the nineteenth century to fly
from all public buildings.
1 May: Pastoral letter of the cardinal primate of Spain, Segura,
in barely concealed support of the monarchy.
11–12 May: Church and convent burnings in Madrid,
Ma´laga and other cities.
May–July: Republican dispositions on religious education
and (20 May) proclamation of ‘freedom of worship’.
July–October: Acts of the provisional government on reform
of schools (laicisation).
14 October: Parliamentary approval of articles 24 and 26 of
the Constitution dealing with religion and the church.
3 November: Decree liberalising marriage and legalising
1932 18 January: First anarchist rebellion, Alt Llobregat (Catalonia).
23 January: Dissolution of the Jesuit Company of Jesus
10 August: Anti-government insurrection led by General
Sanjurjo fails.
9 September: Approval of Catalan statute of autonomy.
1933 8 January: Second anarchist rebellion (Casas Viejas).
17 March: Law of Religious Confessions and Congregations.
Chronology xix
1933 3 June: Pius XI’s papal encyclical, Dilectissima Nobis, on
‘oppression of the church in Spain’.
November: Parliamentary elections. Victory of right-wing
republican parties (CEDA and Radical Party).
8 December: Third anarchist rebellion

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