Spanish Civil War, 1936

Liberal reforms and economic turmoil during the 1930s combined to produce a nationalist conservative backlash. Led by Francisco Franco, a group of conservative generals who objected to socialist reforms they saw as destructive to the military attempted a coup in mid-July 1936 that would set off nearly three years of war that would devastate the social fabric of Spain. The Nationalists would ultimately prevail, and Franco would rule Spain under a fascist regime for nearly four decades.


This civil war era propaganda poster depicts the goals of the nationalist rebels to sweep away the threats of socialism, political factionalism, and regional separatism.

El Socialista: After the Victory, a Single Demand: The Power to Govern, 18 February 1936 Top

Source: Jon Cowans. 2003. Modern Spain: A Documentary History. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Victory was obtained on Sunday, and through it the Popular Front has successfully established its claim on the government. No one and nothing can now stand in the way of the conclusive and overpowering mandate of the people. No one – and of this we are sure – will stand in the way….

At this time it is necessary to show great calm. It is not a question now, as it was on April 14, [1931], of swiftly changing the names of the streets and toppling certain statues. Nor is it a matter of the victory producing only some joyous cries and noisy demonstrations. Let us avoid, first of all, letting candor produce delirium in us again. Let us also avoid allowing people who have an interest in stirring up provocation…to succeed. Nothing would be more damaging to all of our purposes than to reawaken something that was dead….

February 16 is not April 14….In April [1931], we leapt over an enemy that was already dead….February 16 is the victory over a well-prepared enemy….Between the two dates there were experiences that we Republicans and socialists had to learn at the cost of many sacrifices….Our victory will make our struggle easier and will give us the certainty of completing it with the absolute defeat of our enemies. And it is to this, concretely and conclusively to this, that we must dedicate all of our efforts….

It is urgent that the powers of government be handed over to the Popular Front. To the whole clamor of the country, to all the anxiousness that now moves Republicans and socialists to demand that those most fundamental aspirations be fulfilled, we only wish to add one: the handing over of the powers of government. It is the Popular Front that should liberate our prisoners. As of yesterday, the jails have started to be opened, allowing our comrades to go free. The people must now ask for a single thing: the powers of the government. They belong to them. They have conquered them and no one can oppose their falling into their hands. Once the powers of the government are in their hands, they will no longer have to ask for anything.

Manifesto by General Francisco Franco, 17 July 1936 Top

Source: Alun, Kenwood. 1993. The Spanish Civil War: A Cultural and Historical Reader. Providence, RI: Berg Press. (p. 56-58)

Spaniards! The nation calls to her defense all those of you who hear the holy name of Spain, those in the ranks of the ARmy and Navy who have made a profession of faith in the service of the Motherland, all those who swore to defend her to the death against her enemies. The situation in Spain grows more critical every day; anarchy reigns in most of the countryside and towns; government-appointed authorities encourage revolts, when they do not actually lead them; murderers use pistols and machine guns to settle their differences and to treacherously assassinate innocent people, while the public authorities fail to impose law and order. Revolutionary strikes of all kinds paralyze the life of the nation, destroying its sources of wealth and creating hunger, forcing working men to the point of desperation. The most savage attacks are made pon national monuments and artistic treasures by revolutionary hordes who obey the orders of foreign governments, with the complicity and negligence of local authorities. The most serious crimes are committed in the cities and countryside, while the forces that should defend public order remain in their barracks, bound by blind obedience to those governing authorities that are intent on dishonoring them. The Army, Navy, and other armed forces are the target of the most obscene and slanderous attacks, which are carried out by the very people who should be protecting their prestige. Meanwhile, martial law is imposed to gag the nation, to hide what is happening in its towns and cities, and to imprison alleged political opponents.

The Constitution, effectively violated and disregarded by all, is in total eclipse; there is neither equality before the law, nor liberty unfettered by tyranny; there is no fraternity when hatred and violence have taken the place of mutual respect; nor is there unity in our Fatherland, which is threatened with territorial disintegration even more than by the regionalism that has been encouraged by public government; nor is the integrity of our borders being defended, when in the heart of Spain foreign radio broadcasts are heard announcing the destruction and division of our land. The judiciary, whose independence is guaranteed by the Constitution, is the object of persecution, and serious attacks are being made on its independence. Electoral pacts, made at the expense of the integrity of our own Nation, together with assaults on civil governments and strong boxes in order to falsify electoral documents, make up the mask of legality that has presided over us.

All kinds of authorities, whose slackness and negligence are protected by a bungling central government, lack the authority and standing to impose order upon the domain of freedom and justice, and contribute to the rebellious and unthinking attitude of the masses, who have been tricked and exploited by Soviet agents who hide from them the bloody realities of a regime that sacrificed twenty-five million people for its own survival.

Can we permit one more day of this shameful spectacle we are presenting to the world? can we abandon Spain to the enemies of the Motherland and, in an act of cowardice and treachery, surrender her without so much as a struggle?

No! Let traitors do so, but no we who have sworn to defend her.

We offer: justice and equality before the law.

Peace and love among Spaniards; liberty and fraternity, free of licentiousness and tyranny.

Work for all, social justice, brought about without rancor or violence, and an equitable and progressive distribution of wealth, without destroying or endangering the health of the national economy.

But, against this, we shall wage a war without quarter upon political manipulators who deceive the honest worker, and against foreigners and foreign sympathizers who, either openly or by deceit, are trying to destroy Spain.

Today the whole of Spain is rising up to demand peace, fraternity, and justice. In every province of the country, the Army, the Navy, and forces of public order are rising up to defend the Motherland.

The force that will be used to maintain order will be proportionate to the magnitude of the resistance encountered.

Our action is not motivated by the defense of illegitimate interests, nor by any desire to turn back the clock of History, because each and every one of our institutions must guarantee a minimum of cooperation among the citizens who, in spite of the illusions of so many and in spite of the compromises and understanding of all national organizations, have tasted anarchy and, seeing its fraudulence, know that it cannot be tolerated.

Just as the purity of our intentions prevents us from reversing those gains that represent a real advance in the political and social area, so a spirit of hatred and vengeance has no home in our breasts. From the inevitable shipwreck that some legislative experiments will suffer, we shall know how to save whatever is compatible with the internal peace of Spain and its longed-for greatness. For the first time in the history of our MOtherland we will create reality of the trilogy – and in this order: fraternity, liberty, and equality.

Spaniards: Long live Spain! Long live the honorable Spanish people!

General Francisco Franco
Tetuan, 17 July 1936

The Generals’ Declaration of War, 18 July 1936 Top

Source: George R. Esenwein. 2005. The Spanish Civil War: A Modern Tragedy. New York: Routledge. (p. 25)


Once again the Army, together with the other armed forces of the nation, has deemed it necessary to respond to the ardent desire of the grand majority of Spaniards, who with infinite bitterness saw disappear that which can unite us all in a common ideal: SPAIN.

It is a question of reestablishing ORDER within the REPUBLIC, not only in appearance or external signs, but also in its very essence, ceasing to be a country divided into two groups: those that enjoy power and violated even the laws they themselves made, and those whose rights were trampled. The manner in which the two groups conduct themselves will determine their relation to AUTHORITY, another feature vanished from our nation and which is indispensable for any human community, whether it be a democratic system or a Soviet one – the latter in which it will reach its maximum rigor. It is therefore necessary to act with justice, which takes no heed of class or social category – which is neither exalted nor persecuted. The reestablishment of this principle of AUTHORITY, forgotten in recent years, demands that punishment by exemplary in the severity with which it will be imposed and the celerity with which it is carried out without hesitation or vacillation.

Radio Broadcast Defending the Republic, 19 July 1936 Top

Source: George R. Esenwein. 2005. The Spanish Civil War: A Modern Tragedy. New York: Routledge. (p. 29)

Danger! To Arms!

Workers, anti-fascists, and labouring people!

Rise as one man! Prepare to defend the Republic, national freedom and the democratic liberties own by the people.

Everybody now knows from the communications of the government and of the people’s Front how serious the situation is. The workers, together with the troops which have remained loyal to the Republic, are manfully and enthusiastically carrying on the struggle in Morocco and the Canary Islands. Under the slogan, ‘Fascism shall not pass, the October butchers shall not pass!’…

All Spain has risen to the Struggle. In Madrid the people have come out into the streets, lending strength to the government by their determination and fighting spirit, so that it may utterly exterminate the reactionary fascist rebels.

Young men and women, sound the alarm! Rise and join the battle!

POUM Reasons for Adopting Militarization Measures, 2 December 1936 Top

Source: George R. Esenwein. 2005. The Spanish Civil War: A Modern Tragedy. New York: Routledge. (p. 41)

To meet the needs of the first days of struggle, the anti-fascist militia were created as a revolutionary workers’ movement to fight against the decayed and reactionary forces of feudal and capitalist Spain. None of the revolutionaries who enlisted in the militias would have consented to join the Spanish army, nor are they now in agreement to form part of it. If none of the combatants had any objection to being in the militias, which they consider as a revolutionary force, they would certainly have made every resistance against being enrolled into the very army against which they were fighting. It would not have been possible to organise the peoples’ army by means of military organization. The Militias were born of the spontaneous organisation of the moment, and when accusing them of lacking the necessary discipline it is well to remember that at a time when they possessed none of the material which is in their hands today they promised that fascism should not pass and faithfully kept that promise. Fascism was defeated when it came face to face on the battlefield with these fighters for the revolution and their great courage.

Of course we are in favour of discipline, but it must be revolutionary discipline which is the only guarantee we have that the Army of the Revolution will not be turned into a mercenary force, capable one day of betraying the interests of its own class and the revolution.

Appeal by the Spanish Government to the League of Nations, 11 December 1936 Top

Source: Alun, Kenwood. 1993. The Spanish Civil War: A Cultural and Historical Reader. Providence, RI: Berg Press. (p. 64-70)

M. Alvarez Del Vayo. – I had the honour of drawing the attention of the Assembly last September to the danger to peace arising out of a new form of aggression, which consisted in a State making war to all intents and purposes, but without declaring war, but first provoking a rebellion within another State and then giving military assistance to the rebels. I fully realised, in making this statement, how strongly the demand was pressed from different quarters to supply irrefutable proof of my allegations. They were contained in the notes addressed to the members of the Non-Intervention Committee in London, which were reprinted in our White Book.

To-day, these proofs have become such that no one can any longer entertain any serious doubts as to the facts of the situation.

Last September, I alluded to the tragic proof supplied by the youth of Spain, who fall in thousands in the trenches of freedom as the victims of Fascist aeroplanes and of the foreign war material delivered month after month, despite the non-intervention agreement, but those who base their international policy on the systematic breaking of treaties and of their international undertakings. Today, Madrid has become one more irrefutable proof. No one can doubt the validity of the evidence. Every foreign mission which has visited Spain has brought back fresh accusations against this monstrosity: that the capital of a State Member of the League has been reduced to ruins, and that the women and children of this capital have been butchered in hundreds by bombing planes under the orders of rebel generals and supplied by States which have, in fact, begun a war, and which are continuing to make war, while statesmen talk of preserving peace.

The war is there; an international war is raging on Spanish soil. We have seen how, in the last few days, the rebels, after the failure of their Moroccan troops, are now preparing to receive the assistance of fresh forces which they themselves call “blond Moors.” Moreover, we must expect that poison gas, which has already been employed these last days, will continue to be used in the attacks against Madrid, and that the parts of the city in which the workers live will be bombed more and more violently in order to try to obtain by panic what the rebels have failed to obtain by other means. It would be both useless and dangerous to continue to ignore the situation. The Worst thing that could happen to the League of Nations would be to contribute by its own silence and inaction, to the spread of this war.

It is, of course, possible to conceive of a European peace which would result from a policy of successive surrenders to the aggression of the forces of destruction and of war. After Germany and Italy had succeeded in getting the upper hand in Spain and in using the occasion to retain for themselves the Balearic Islands and perhaps other naval bases in key positions either in the Mediterranean or the Atlantic, the same game might be strated gain elsewhere. Other democratic countries, which are also looked upon as dangerous centres of international trouble and discord, might also be reduced to impotence. As the final result of this process, it is possible to conceive of a Europe wholly pacified because all problems and all difficulties would have been settled, thanks to the decisive action of international Fascism.

Such a peace, it is true, would have cost the lives of millions of men, women and children and would have meant that many capitals would have suffered the fate of Madrid, that hundreds of towns would have known the fate of Cartagena and of Alicante. But, form a formal point of view, peace would not have been disturbed. When the SPanish Government decided that it was its duty to assume the grave responsibility of requesting a meeting of the Council of the League, it did so precisely because it wished, so far as it was concerned, to declare in the most solemn fashion its firm decision to oppose any such paradoxical and murderous “peace policy.”

Allow me to recall just what were the reasons that made the Spanish Government feel it was necessary to demand a meeting of the Council. In the first place, the Spanish rebels have just been recognised as a legitimate Government by two great European Powers – Germany and Italy. The moment the rebels had received this recognition their chief threatened to start a blockade of the Government ports in the Mediterranean. At the same time, naval attacks took place at different points on the Spanish coast by warships whose nationality it was impossible to establish. Two Government warships have been attacked by two submarines also of unknown nationality at the entry to the port of Cartagena.

All these facts together have led the Spanish Government to fear that the international consequence of the Spanish military insurrection may become particularly threatening for the peace of Europe. The Spanish Government therefore considered it to be its duty to do all that lay in its power to enable to Covenant of the League to be applied at least for the maintenance of general peace. Since the power of the Covenant to prevent the outbreak of hostilities, about which so much has been heard of late, has been unable to stop the aggression of which Spain is the victim it is to be hoped that the Covenant may at least be used to prevent the outbreak of the general conflagration which now appears to be daily more probably.

If the Spanish Government has now asked for a meeting of the Council, it did so solely for the reason that an international war exists in fact, and that this war, if it is still ignored, may, when it is least expected, produce a situation which can no longer be controlled. This view of the situation is not ours alone and cannot therefore be attributed to excessive apprehensions on our part….

There is no question therefore of submitting to the Council any request on behalf of the Spanish Government or of the SPanish people. We are not prompted by any selfish interests. We are not asking the Council to do anything to assist the Spanish people to solve their own problems. If our initiative had been due solely to consideration of our national interests we should have acted long ago. We are convinced that, even before the insurrection, the rebels were able to count on moral and material assistance from abroad. The importance and effectiveness of this assistance and cooperation, as regards aerial and land warfare, can hardly be doubted by anyone. But this assistance, although it was just as harmful to the Spanish people and just as much a violation of international law, was not such an immediate danger from the point of view of general peace. […]

The Spanish Government has faith in the efficacy of the Council and of the technical and political apparatus of the League of Nations. We are convinced that the Council can find means of avoiding or of reducing to reasonable limits the dangers of the present situation. […]

During all this time, the Spanish people, who when setting up the Republic, were the first to incorporate the fundamental principles of the Covenant in their Constitution – not because they could foresee the military rebellion of July and the armed assistance from abroad, but because the cause of peace is dear to their hearts – have been disappointed to see how the institution that was created to preserve the peace of the world is repeating, in the case of Spain, the indecision it has displayed in the past. It would be vain and dangerous to overlook the fact that this feeling of disappointment has been shared in the last few months by the great bulk of world opinion, even outside the State Members of the LEague. It has been shared by millions who cannot resign themselves to the policy of successive surrenders to to the forces of war and aggression. Those who want peace are conscious of the fact that they represent the will of the majority, and, in spite of constant disappointment, they are always ready generously to overlook the errors of the past. […]

At this grave hour, when all feel how close the danger of war has come, and when every sane European who has not fallen a victim to the aggressive contagion of Fascism is haunted by the prospect of the place where he lives and works going up in smoke and flames, as is the case in Madrid today, those who want peace in the world demand, and are right in demanding, a firmer and more resolute attitude than would be required in the case of a mere controversy between rival doctrines.

But I do not want this meeting of the Council to be purely negative, or even, has been suggested, recriminatory in character. The interests of the League and those of peace demand that our discussions should end in constructive decisions. I realise fully, and I am the first to regret, that certain absences at this table make it more difficult for the Council to take constructive action. But I am convinced that there is no one here who thinks that these absences should be a reason for the Council declaring in advance that it is powerless….

Spain has done everything that could be required of it as a Member of the League in order to serve the cause of peace. But peace cannot be attained at the instance of only one nation: it must be the result of the collective endeavour of all who feel equally bound by the obligations of the Covenant….

In the eyes of many, the conflict in Spain is simply a particularly acute and bloody manifestation of two rival political doctrines: Communism and Fascism. I shall not insult you by assuming that it is necessary for me to refute here this puerile and oversimplified conception of the situation. This conflict, it is true, began with a clear and indubitable case of Fascist aggression, in order to prevent the democratisation of the political regime in Spain. It is also certain that the Spanish people is firmly resolved not to let the upheaval produced by this aggression pass without eliminating finally and for all time the obstacles which have traditionally obstructed the political development of Spain towards democracy, freedom and social justice.

Finally the upheaval has been exploited, not to say instigated, by European Fascist Powers, in order to establish in Spain a Fascist political regime, which would out Spain, with all that it represents in resources and geographical position, at the service of the international policy of these Powers. That is the point which should, in the Spanish Government’s view, be regarded as its central feature; that is the heart of the problem. The Government and people of Spain are sure of the final and complete victory of their cause.

Afterwards, when Spain has once more regained normal conditions of democracy, liberty and social justice, the Spanish Republic will remember that its Constitution incorporates the fundamental principles of the Covenant of the League. These principles and the international cooperation which is their essence will certainly remain the basis of the national and international policy of the Spanish Republic.

Franco’s Call for Unification of Fighting Forces, 18 April 1937 Top

Source: George R. Esenwein. 2005. The Spanish Civil War: A Modern Tragedy. New York: Routledge. (p. 109)

We are confronted by a war that every day is taking on more the character of a crusade, of a transcendental struggle of historic grandeur on the part of whole peoples and civilizations – a war in which Spain once again has been selected by history to serve as the field of tragedy and honor in order to bring peace to today’s enraged world.

What started out on July 17 [1936] as our civil war has today turned into a conflagration that is going to illuminate the future for centuries.

At this time, with a clear conscience and a firm sense of my mission in behalf of Spain and in accordance with the will of the Spanish fighters, I demand of everyone but one thing: Unity.

Unity, in order to bring the war speedily to an end; unity, in order to undertake the great new task of peace, crystallizing in the New Spain the thought and style of our National Revolution.

This unity which I call for in the name of Spain and in the sacred name of those who have given their lives for her does not mean a mere conglomeration of forces, or a governmental concentration of political factions, or a sacred union of more or less patriotic type. There is nothing inorganic, fleeting, or temporary in what I am calling for.

I demand unity in our march toward a common goal – unity both internally and externally, both in faith and in doctrine, both as regards the forms to be manifested to the outside world and in those to be manifested to ourselves.

….The Movement that we are leading today is precisely that – a movement, not a program. And as such, it is in process of elaboration and subject to constant revision and improvement to the extent that is realistically possible.


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